Officials: Shawnee Park sports complex wouldn’t affect burial mound

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
A Native American burial mound is visible near the clubhouse and swimming pool at Shawnee Regional Park in Dunbar. Officials say a proposed sports complex at the park would not affect the mound.

A proposal to build a sports complex at Shawnee Regional Park would not affect a Native American burial mound there, officials say.

The mound would not be disturbed should the Kanawha County Commission move forward with a plan to install several turf sports fields and grass practice fields at the park, Commissioner Ben Salango said.

“It will be regraded, not in the area of the mound, but where the [golf] holes are,” Salango said. “There will be two types of grading, initially when they flatten it out and then when the turf goes in.”

Salango said, should the project go forward, construction crews would keep an eye out for archaeological artifacts.

“I’m sure they’ll stop work and take the appropriate measures at that time,” Salango said. “It’s been graded a few times, so we’re not expecting any, but you never know.”

Plans for the proposed sports complex include installing four turf baseball/softball fields, six turf soccer/lacrosse fields and 11 grass practice fields for soccer and lacrosse, as well as two parking lots with nearly 1,100 parking spaces combined.

The proposal has drawn ire from some who frequent the park’s golf course. Commissioners recently held a public hearing on the matter, and they plan to have another hearing before voting on whether to move forward with the project. The cost of the proposal has not been determined.

The burial mound, one of a few in the Kanawha Valley, was built after 500 B.C. and has been excavated. The Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian removed its contents and took them to the Smithsonian nearly 140 years ago, according to Charleston-based archaeologist and author Darla Spencer.

Spencer went to the Smithsonian to photograph the artifacts and wrote a report about it for the West Virginia Humanities Council. Spencer said because of the way it was excavated, the mound could hold more remains that are intact.

About 3 feet from the top of the mound, known as the Poorhouse Mound or Shawnee Reservation Mound, were the remains of two people, one over the other and facing each another, according to the report. Ten feet down from the top of the mound were two large skeletons in a sitting position with their legs interlocked at the knees, according to Spencer’s report. Between the people was a hollowed-out sandstone slab filled with white ashes containing burned bone fragments. One of the skeletons wore copper bracelets.

The burial ground is probably the earliest known use of the Shawnee park property, but it’s been several things over its history.

The area used to be the site of Kanawha County’s work farm (often called a poor farm), according to Stan Cohen’s book “Kanawha County Images: A Bicentennial History 1788-1988.” Poor farms were used before welfare reform of the New Deal and “played a major role in the care of people who because of poverty, infirmity, or old age were unable to care for themselves,” according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia.

The park was also the county fairgrounds, a recreation area and the place where circuses were held, according to the book. The Southern West Virginia fair took place there annually for a long time, the book says.

Dunbar City Councilman Harold Craigo, who is 90 years old, said he remembers the park when it was called one of two names: the Dunbar Fairgrounds or the Charleston Fairgrounds. He joked it was called Dunbar if there was something bad happening there and Charleston if it was something positive.

“They had all the facets of the pretty good-sized fairs,” Craigo said. “It rivaled the West Virginia State Fair for the entertainment and carnival and the things they brought in.”

Salango said county officials are trying to find out more about an old stone campsite found at the park. Salango said the county wants to include signs describing the history of the park in the sports complex if the project goes forward.

Craigo said he supports the proposal to build the complex. The city would reap the benefits if the park is left under the control of the city, he said.

“I could see great things happening for Dunbar if they get it,” he said.

Reach Lori Kersey at

lori.kersey@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1240 or follow

@LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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