Triangle Park Burial Ground Survey: Some Historical Perspective (Opinion)

Reports in the local media indicate that planned construction of a new turf football field at Triangle Park in Dayton is on hold. The National Football League had committed funds to put in the new field in commemoration of the 100th NFL season and the 100th anniversary of the first game between league teams, played at the park on October 3, 1920. There’s a problem, though. Guy Jones, a Native American, has brought forward evidence that the site may be a Native American burial ground.

Based on past history, Mr. Jones has cause for concern.

As we’ll cover in a future episode of the podcast, Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering bought two adjacent parcels of land to create the original Triangle Park for employees of their companies, and ultimately, the entire City of Dayton. The larger parcel, which they purchased first, was a 105-acre strip of land extending from the confluence of the Great Miami and Stillwater rivers north by northwest to a line not far from the current location of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. The second, smaller parcel was a 35-acre wooded area east of Ridge Avenue that was formerly known as Idylwild.

The Idylwild land had a long and well-known association with Native American history. Some locals of the time believed that the great chief Tecumseh was actually buried there. A known Native American burial mound sat on the land.

In the course of landscaping the new park, developers approved the desecration and leveling of the burial mound, the stated reason being to encourage grass to grow there. An article in the October 8, 1916 edition of the Dayton Daily News (Section B, page 4) includes a photograph of workers with tools crouching over unearthed remains at the site. An accompanying article by H. C. Shetrone, Assistant Curator of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, begins as follows:

And now, even the mystic Moundbuilder — the “First Ohioan” — must needs rise up from his long-sealed tomb, to acclaim Montgomery county a good place in which to live.

H. C. Shetrone, “Indian Mound in Idylwild Park At Last Has Given Up Its Dead,” Dayton Daily News, October 8, 1916, p. B4.

I don’t wonder that Guy Jones frets. Why the problem now, though?

The proposed new field would be built on land that was not originally part of the Idylwild parcel. it was part of the larger parcel of land. That land belonged to the Mead family. Daniel Eldridge Mead kept horses and raised tobacco there in the 1800s, and it stayed in the Mead family until they sold it to Deeds and Kettering in 1916. As far as I was able to determine, it had no obvious connection to Native American history the way Idylwild had. However, a popular Native American trail ran north and south along the Great Miami River, so it’s possible that remains are buried on the land near the trail, even though there were no apparent burial mounds.

In fairness to the City of Dayton, city officials were not calling the shots in 1916. The Triangle companies and their owners, through an executive committee, made the decisions. The City of Dayton did not take over ownership and management of the Park until years later. By then, the damage was done. Now, however, the light is shining brightly on city officials and the National Football League.

It may turn out that the survey finds no evidence of remains beneath the ground where the 100th anniversary field would be placed. In any event, this is something the city and the NFL should take seriously. Sacred ground is sacred ground.

UPDATE: On May 15, 2019, after receiving a survey report Indicating the presence of a “unique and sizable anomaly in Triangle Park’s soil that suggests it predates the park and is potentially prehistoric,” the City of Dayton cancelled plans for the field to be installed at the site.