Long before Marquette or Joliet arrived in the 1680s, Julien Dubuque in the 1780s, or European settlers in the 1800's, many Native American tribes inhabited what is now present day Iowa. There is plenty of evidence that many of these early civilizations arrived hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Some of that evidence is available for modern day Iowans and other visitors to our state to enjoy, appreciate, and learn from. One such example is the Toolesboro Mounds near Toolesboro in Louisa County and this site is now a National Historic Landmark.
Iowa Adventurer paid a visit to these Hopewell tradition burial mounds during the warmer (and greener) months of 2020. The site is set back from the road though a new memorial to the six Littleton brothers, Toolesboro natives, and their unequaled sacrifice during the American Civil War has recently been added to the site.
Iowa Adventurer has previously written about this memorial and it is also worth checking out when you visit. This is along Iowa's portion of the Great River Road, a multi-state scenic and historic byway that offers a constant stream of worthwhile stops.
When you arrive, you'll find a large parking lot available for you to utilize.
From the parking lot, you can look west to see the Littleton Brothers Memorial.
Looking east, you can see two of the burial mounds and the accompanying educational center.
The site is managed by the State Historical Society and Louisa County Conservation and they do a nice job with signage and encourage you to stay on the concrete paths.
There are specific hours and times of the year when this site is available for visitors.
The visitor center is a modest but modern looking facility. I was not allowed to go into the building because of COVID precautions. However, two women were working and one of them offered to give me an overview while standing outside.
Fortunately, there is also interesting and details educational information on the building.
So what are "Hopewell tradition mounds" and why are they notable? I found this chunk from this particular website to be quite instructive: "The Hopewell people lived in villages along the riverbank, and lived on a diet formed around hunting and gathering. Taking on the name Hopewell tradition, the set of burial mounds were a part of the religious ceremonies performed by the Hopewell. Mounds were built on high bluffs and were a honor meant for the burial of leaders, chiefs and priests. The Toolesboro area has seven conical (round-shaped) burial mounds overlooking the Iowa River. The process of building and burying the deceased was completed in several different ways. The deceased were place either lying down or in a sitting position against the side of the tomb. Some were cremated, while others were place in charnel houses to decompose and be buried on a later date. The deceased were buried with objects and exotic goods that symbolized their power and leadership qualities, such as strength, bravery or courage."
As you can see, this is quite worthy of being registered as a National Historic Landmark.
You cannot physically go onto the mounds. That should be common sense.
These are not to be played on or hiked upon. These are burial sites.
However, you can view them from a modest distance.
I thought this particular graphic was helpful in understanding the infrastructure of the mound.
There is additional information on a narrative that has been placed atop a stone table. It gives you a nice overview and history. It was hard for me to get to when I visited due to a large downed tree branch. However, I'm sure it has been cleaned up by now. I would also encourage you to read this short history put together by the Iowa Historical Society. It is very nicely done.
As mentioned above, there are seven mounds in this particular cluster, however only two of them are visible from this visitor center. The other five are located further back in the trees and are off limits to the public. There are many instances where burial mounds elsewhere have been destroyed, eroded, farmed over, or excavated and fortunately, these have largely been preserved. Though, there has been some excavation work done. Local landowner George H. Mosier's family donated the land that contains these mounds to the State of Iowa in the early 1960s. A plaque has been added to the visitor center as a public recognition of thanks.
There's a lot more information on the web about this site and other similar mounds if you are interested in delving further into it. I always find this stuff to be fascinating and it's an amazing part of our state's history. When most people think about Native American mounds in Iowa, they probably first think of the Effigy Mounds further north in Clayton County. It's been nearly 25 years since I've visited those mounds so I'm due for a visit back. However, if you are in the area of this site and its during the timeframe that its open to the public, it's definitely a place that is worth spending a half hour of your time.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Louisa County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.