PARKS CAN be magical places. They offer a sense of wonder and produce curiosity of a time long ago. Back to a time long before the internet, cars, indoor plumbing, or air conditioning—to a time when one lived under the stars, off the land, and with the seasons. In these places, time seems to stand still. One can be among nature and experience all that lives in it.
Right in the city of Manchester’s backyard is Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park. One can leave the bustling small town, head down the Hillsboro highway, and turn onto Stone Fort Drive. Follow the winding road until you have left the town’s noise behind. Once there, you can embrace the peaceful sounds of nature while also enjoying a trip back in time.
According to the park’s website, tnstateparks. com, in 1966, the state of Tennessee purchased 400 acres of the Chumbley estate as the core of the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park.
However, the area’s past goes back a bit further than the 1960s. The Old Stone Fort was built approximately 1,500 to 2,000 years ago in the Middle Woodland Period.
According to tn.gov, the park consists of two unconnected pieces of land west of Manchester along the Duck River. Human occupation of the property dates back to at least ca. 6000 BCE when the region was home to small, mobile bands of Native Americans. Over thousands of years, the land saw the construction of ancient Native American earthworks, historic industries, and Civil War troop movements.
The website also states that early area settlers piqued the preservation of the area not only for the ancient ruins of the Old Stone Fort itself but also for recreational opportunities afforded in waterfalls and pools along the Duck River. Together these natural and cultural features combined to attract both locals and visitors and set the area up as a focal point within the early development of Manchester.
Today the park is home to an abundance of enjoyable activities for guests, including camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing, and birding.
For hikers, the main hiking trail follows the wall of Old Stone Fort, which was used by the Native Americans as a ceremonial gathering place, according to the park’s website. The trail winds through breathtaking scenery where visitors can view the original entrance of the fort, designed to face the exact spot on the horizon where the sun rises during the summer solstice. Visitors can learn about the Old Stone Fort on this hike, where twelve interpretive panels sit along the trail. Hikers can also enjoy the park’s many waterfalls that can be viewed and heard along the trails.
Those looking to fish are welcome to try their luck at the Bark Camp and Barren Forks along the Duck River. The river provides largemouth bass, bream, and catfish.
Bird lovers can enjoy the sights and sounds of several types of birds. The park’s canopy can be productive during spring and fall migration. Look to spot species such as the Northern parula, red-eyed vireo, and occasional wood duck.
If a day in the park is not enough, camping is available. The park website states that the park has 50 campsites with water and electrical hookups, grills, and picnic tables. The campground recently underwent an upgrade and reopened in the fall of 2020. Improvements included the construction of a bathhouse and electrical updates. The campsites are heavily wooded with ample spacing between the sites. RVs, tents, and pop-ups are equally popular for camping. And for those looking for more amenities, the park is within 10 minutes of restaurants and other activities.
Finally, the park is known for attracting history enthusiasts from all over. Helping to educate visitors on the park’s history is its museum. The museum consists of displays, which include prehistoric Native American replicas, dioramas, and photos. The park’s website states that the exhibits provide information on the many theories regarding the earthen enclosure’s builders, archaeological excavations at the site, and the culture of its builders.
During the 18th through midtwentieth centuries, the origins of the earthworks presented an enigma to scholars and visitors, leading to speculation that the construction of the site was by several groups that included Spanish explorers, ancient giants, and more.
The museum also houses a small theater for viewing educational films. There is also a welcome center and gift shop for park-goers to enjoy.
Whether you plan to investigate the park’s uniquely and ornately built mounds or just walk along the trails and enjoy the sounds of nature, the park offers something for everyone to enjoy while taking a step back in time. GN