ROSSFORD – An excavation of a suspected Native American burial site on the property at the former Indian Hills Elementary School on Glenwood Road will take place in April.
Todd Audet, Rossford director of economic development, has been heading up the work on the Indian Hills property, which is currently undergoing investigations as part of the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 program, which determines the historical significance of properties.
The entire Indian Hills site is 39 acres, but that has been narrowed down to 13 acres.
“About nine to 10 acres, based on historical information, is where material with historically significant items have been identified,” Michael Coonfare, with Civil & Environmental Consultants, said. “It’s shovel test pits. It’s grids.”
That section is on the eastern end of the site.
“I like that term: Historically significant. It could be bones. It could be anything that takes the site back to Native Americans,” Audet said. “We’re not rushing this. We’re doing it very deliberately and carefully.”
Collaboration with tribal entities is part of the 106 program.
Audet is a retired military officer, civil engineer and a detail oriented individual.
“People ask why this takes so long. I’m learning why this takes so long. You want to do it the right way. It is a very sensitive issue,” Audet said. “Better safe than sorry.”
Audet has heard from individuals who are interested in having the site developed, and others who want it turned into a park. His research has also shown that if it is a burial ground, tribal entities may not want people hiking over culturally significant sections of land.
He has made sure that the areas are being protected and watched.
“There’s a rich history for the area, and it has been often overlooked,” Audet said.
The school was built in 1972 and it was surveyed in the past, which is how it achieved 106 status.
“They didn’t do anything wrong back in the day. It’s just that the process has evolved and what stood for due diligence then does not stand now,” Audet said.
The recognition of the site’s historical significance began with a standard city request for proposals related to city-owned property.
The city made a request for proposals from developers for the city-owned section of the Indian Hills site in October 2020.
“A proposal doesn’t mean that you have made a decision,” Audet said. “We had one response to Indian Hills.”
In this case, it was more for determination of market conditions. It turned up more than was expected.
“When we put the first proposal out there, the developer said the site is on the national historic register,” Audet said. “That’s when I talked to one of our council members and a list of qualified consultants, and that’s when I saw that CEC specialized in environmental and this type of activity.”
The most disturbed piece of ground is that with the school on it. CEC has already used ground penetrating radar and a magnetometer survey on the larger site.
“The non-intrusive survey did identify anomalies. Are those anomalies historically significant areas? Maybe or maybe not. They really are just that. It’s something that looks different from data collected right next to it,” Coonfare said. “Therefore you go in and do a meticulous hand testing.”
He emphasized that the items could be almost anything, from Native American artifacts to bottle caps from a local litter bug.
“You have to do due diligence to the process without jeopardizing the site,” Audet said.
Starting in mid-April, when the ground is right for digging, dry enough and no longer frozen, a grid will be laid out in a stereotypical archaeological fashion for that close-up and careful work.
“We can’t have a change in activity without going back to the 106 process. If we do any modification of the structure, we have to satisfy the requirements of the state historical preservation office,” Audet said.
Coordination is key.
This is not the first time the location has been surveyed. Heidelberg College Center for Historic and Military Archaeology did work related to the site in 2005, but it first came to the attention of the city in 1962. Skeletal remains were found by children digging a “fort.” This was followed by official work by archaeologist Marshall Becker, from the University of Toledo.
A large-scale excavation of the area was conducted in 1967 by the university.
The site was later complicated by a channel excavation, related to Grassy Creek, by the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a landfill. The discovery of burial sites in the fall of 1968 resulted in the Indian Hills name.
Further official archaeological projects from the University of Toledo were conducted in 1980, 1981 and 1982. There may have also been another project in the 1990s, but official information has yet to be located.