Old Stone Fort










"Old Stone Fort is a 2,000-year-old American Indian ceremonial site, which was probably a special and mystical place for the Indians even before their building began there.  The location of the forks of a river may have given it a special significance, and the cliffs and waterfalls were certainly as remarkable then as they are now.  


"The ceremonial enclosure that early European settlers called the Old Stone Fort was begun some 2,000 years ago during what archaeologists term the Middle Woodland Tradition.  'The Woodland Tradition' is the name given to the Indian culture that saw the advent of agriculture and pottery for food storage.  The food surpluses made possible by agriculture and pottery led to a more settled, less nomadic way of life.  This, in turn, brought about increased social stratification and an elite class with a power structure capable of directing building projects on a massive scale.  This was the situation that seemed to lead to the construction of Old Stone Fort as well as the other mounds and enclosures of the period.  


The Entranceway

Old Stone Fort Entrance


"The entranceway is a rather complex combination of walls, mounds, ditches and angles.  The conical mounds, which flank the entrance, are connected to the walls, which run behind each river to the river cliffs and form the enclosure.  Beyond the mounds, but before the in-turned entranceway walls, there was once a ditch eight feet deep.  It has filled in to the point that it is a four-foot dip now.  Past the ditch are the in-turned entranceway walls.  These walls formed an almost closed box at one time. The passageway leading to the interior of the enclosure was at the left rear of the complex. The in-turned walls point at the summer solstice sunrise.  


"When the left entranceway wall was as complete as the right, it was easier to picture the processions that may have passed through the entrance alleyway and the ritual significance the entranceway may have had when passing from the world outside to the sacred ground enclosed beyond.  The left side wall was destroyed for building material within the last 150 years.  


The Enclosure

"The field you see, once through the entranceway, is totally within the enclosure walls.  Some 50 acres of the land in the forks of the rivers are enclosed by the walls.  Very few artifacts are associated with the site.  This is part of the evidence for the fact that there was never a village or a permanent habitation within the enclosure.  Archaeologists discount a defensive purpose and are confident that the enclosure is a ceremonial site--a sacred site set apart from the rest of the land.  


The Wall

"The walls have been radiocarbon 14 dated to approximately 30 AD, 230 AD, and 430 AD in various places.  It is thought that they were built, repaired, and modified over this 400-year period.  The internal building method was fairly consistent throughout, however, showing a pattern of inclusive stone walls within the overall wall.  The two stone cores are divided by a well-defined inner trench floor with shale slabs.  The consistent use of the site for at least 400 years is one of its most fascinating aspects.  


End of the East Wall

"At this point, the wall has turned to meet the rising cliff and ends as the cliffs begin to attain their full, impenetrable height.  There were no walls built on either river where the cliffs served the purpose to set apart the enclosed area.


The Bluffs

"Both the Big and Little Duck Rivers drop some 100 feet as they pass through the park.  The rivers are descending at this point from the level of the Highland Rim Plateau to the level of the Nashville Basin.  As the rivers drop, cutting into the edge of the elevated flatland, the cliff height rises to 85 feet.


The South Wall

"At this point, the longest continuous stretch of wall begins and runs more than 2,000 feet to the other river.  The concrete marker serves as a mapping point for archaeologists.  When excavations occur, surveying and measuring will begin here, tying new information to that obtained in the past.  





The "Moat"

"The deep depression to the left is an abandoned river course, popularly called the 'Moat' due to its apparent relationship to the wall.  The Big Duck River once flowed through this valley, but the river broke through the narrow ridge on the opposite side after thousands of years of erosion. It then took a shortcut into the downstream channel. The river did not follow the now abandoned course when the wall was built.  A ditch exists within this valley that may be part of the original Old Stone Fort construction.  This ditch parallels the wall with the wall at the top of the most abrupt drop off and the ditch at the foot of it.  


The Wall Follows the Hill Crest

"In this area, the wall dips below the elevation of the flat interior and follows the point at which the hillside drops off most abruptly.  A ditch parallels the course of the wall at the foot of the hill.  The significance of this feature, built within the abandoned river channel, is unclear.


Duck River Bluff and Destroyed Wall

"The wall once extended to the vertical bluffs of the Big Duck River.  The wall has been leveled in this area, but traces of its base are occasionally visible.  As on the Little Duck River, the wall ended where the cliffs made the interior inaccessible.  


Big Falls



"The most abrupt vertical drop on the rivers is at Big Falls.  The waterfalls erode the layers of shale beneath the limestone to the point that large slabs of limestone collapse into cavities in the shale.  This results in deep pools below the falls. The wall of the Old Stone Fort begins above the falls and continues upstream to the entrance complex.  


The Paper Mills


Paper Mill

"By 1879, the Hickerson and Wooten Paper Company was the primary user of water power on the Big Duck River.  Two mills made print paper for newspapers, while a third made brown wrapping paper from wood pulp.  The print paper for the Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Atlanta newspapers was made from the fiber of old clothes and rags that were delivered here daily by mule wagon from the train depot.  A mill town, complete with a boarding house and commissary, grew up around the mills.


Other Mills

"The water falls of the two rivers have played a part in the operation of a Civil War gunpowder mill, a rope factory, water-powered oil wells, and numerous sawmills as well as grist mills of various periods.  Many dams have come and gone along the rivers, and long mill runs or sluices once paralleled the riverbanks.  


The Functional Height of the Wall

"The wall was consistently constructed at the edge of the steepest, natural drop of the slope.  When one is on the main trail headed upstream on the Big Duck River, the wall is at the top of the slope to the right.  The built wall and the natural dropoffs combined to create a higher functional height than the height of the built walls alone."  


(Information taken, by permission, from the "Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park Interpretive Path Guide" prepared by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.)