Guest Column: Indian mound located on River Oaks property

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111159922714778.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Local preservationist David Van Pernis was instrumental in protecting the Indian mounds at Beattie Park, pictured above. He says more than 1,000 mounds once existed in Winnebago County. A 1984 survey stated only 24 remain.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111159926218314.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Local preservationist David Van Pernis asserts the formation above is an Indian mound on the old River Oaks Nursing Home property. Thatcher Black (one of the founders of Rockford) owned the land originally. Van Pernis suspects this mound is one of what is referred to as the “Johns Mound Group.” He says it may be from 1,200 to 1,500 years old.’);

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Mayor Doug Scott and the Rockford City Council on Jan. 17, 2005, with copies to Aldermen Victory Bell, Doug Mark, and other local officials.

Over a year ago, I informed a city official of the existence of a burial Indian mound on the property of River Oaks Nursing Home (formerly at 2400 South Main St.). This mound is probably about 1,200 years old and may be as old as 500 B.C. There were once more than 1,000 mounds in Winnebago County. A survey done in 1984 states 24 is all that remains.1

I suspect this mound is one of what is referred to as the “Johns Mound Group.” In 1888, archaeologist/surveyor Theodore Lewis recorded 56 mounds within this group.2 In 1913, The Rockford Republic, a local newspaper, reported, “The Indian mounds that abound in the Johns Woods are of a tribe long antedating the Indian of our pioneers, but the trail leading to the ford in front of the Corey place was worn on the hillside by the modern Indian.”3

Before the building became River Oaks Nursing Home, it was named the Eastern Star Masonic Home. In 1960, the Rockford Register Republic wrote “a group of mounds is visible between the road and the river.”4 This property may contain other burials and artifacts other than the visible mound. Let alone the moral reasons, it is against the law to disturb burial remains.5

Please use your best care and respect in your judgment of how this land is used. If I can be of further service, please contact me.

(1) Northern Illinois University, “Effigy Mounds in Northern Illinois: An Analysis of an Endangered Cultural Resource. A thesis submitted to the graduate school in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, Department of Anthropology, by Carol A. Boris, DeKalb, Ill., August 1984. page 49

(2) Ibid., pages 46 and 47. Ms. Carol Boris’s reference is 1888a Northwestern Archaeological Survey, Lewis Field Notebook 19, Vol. 33. Copy on file, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

(3) Excerpt of article from The Rockford Republic, Sept. 4, 1913.

(4) “Little-Noticed Mounds Here Tell of Early Indian Culture,” Rockford Register Republic, Oct. 22, 1960.

(5) “New Illinois Laws a Boon to Historical and Archaeological Sites,” Historic Illinois, February 1990.

Editor’s note: Van Pernis received a response from Mayor Doug Scott thanking him for the letter and saying “I appreciate you bringing this matter to my attention, as your letter was the first I had heard of the possible existence of a burial mound on that property. The property is owned by a private entity, and we will certainly make them aware of this information. And we will work with them on their development to comply with the applicable laws.”

On Feb. 28, Van Pernis met with Thomas Berres, an archaeologist working with Century 21, which is doing the development. A survey of the property is required by the state. Van Pernis said, “Thatcher Black [one of the founders of Rockford] owned the land originally. The piece of land has more historic significance to it than just the fact that there is an Indian mound on the property.”

Berres also spoke with The Rock River Times. “I’m just helping evaluate the property to see what cultural resources may or may not be there. We are not going to touch the mound,” he said. “As far as I know, it’s only one mound. But I showed David that there was a historic structure right adjacent to that mound… We are not touching that mound. I am developing the scope of work that will be submitted to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) as a requirement. So… I am only doing limited work in terms of land excavation, shovel tests. Once again, looking at disturbance in the area. We are doing everything to safeguard the mound that is there. It is questionable whether it is an Indian mound, but we must stay away from it and determine what else is there. There has been a lot of historic disturbance in that area. We have looked at the Sanborn maps (insurance maps) that go back to the turn of the century, and they show structure [such as] … hydrants and pipes. We are trying to safeguard everything.”

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