Mystery Walls on Armstrong Mountain

Charleston Gazette
March 5, 1970

The Mystery of Armstrong Mountain: Has Prehistoric Site Been Stripped?

Montgomery - West Virginia's most intriguing prehistoric ruin, a mountaintop Stonehenge that baffles archeologists, may have been turned into a strip mine.

Some archeology fans say they can no longer find it since the area was stripped.

But coal company officers swear their bulldozers never touched the ruin - "and besides, nobody ever could find it, even before we started to work."

AT ISSUE are the mysterious stone-works on Armstrong Mountain east of Montgomery. They are - or were, as the case may be - a long, long windrow of piled up stones snaking about 10 miles around the brow of the mountain, enclosing the summit. They're called the Armstrong Mountain "walls," even though the rocks were only a heap, at best.

The first white settlers in the Kanawha Valley reported finding the strange stone ridge - and Indians were recorded as saying it existed before the Indians came. Archeologists have speculated it may have been built by an offbeat tribe of mound-builders, or by "archaic people who preceded the mound-builders."

It is believed that the mountaintop enclosure had some connection with the Fort Ancient village on Kanawha River at the base of Armstrong Mountain which was occupied by different races of aborigines for at least 1,000 years before white men came.

The purpose of the stone-works never has been fathomed. Researchers say the ridge would have been useless for defense and couldn't have worked as a fence for livestock. It's speculated that the enclosure may have been a primitive religious center, perhaps for sun worship on the hilltop.

Whatever it was, it required generations of backbreaking labor by the long-vanished people, for the "walls" contained thousands of tons of stones carried from a wide area.

Ever since the 1890s, various teams of archeologists have inspected the stone-works.

AT THAT SAME period, strip mining of the mountain was started by Hawks Nest Mining Co. of Montgomery. It performed the work through various contractor firms. The current contractor is Whitesville A&S (auger and strip) Inc., owned by State Sen. Tracy W. Hylton of Mullens.

In the mid-1960's, the Rev. Stacy Grosscup a member of the state archeological society, warned that the "mystery walls" might be in danger. At his request, the state Antiquities Commission wrote to the coal firm and urged great caution. The firm replied that it would strive to avoid the walls.

The first report that the walls have been destroyed came a few weeks ago. Several traveling Mormon evangelists sought to visit the site because of their belief that Jesus came to America after his resurrection and visited an advanced civilization here. They said they were told by nearby residents that the walls had been wiped out by strip mine.

Gordon Woods, assistant professor of political science at West Virginia Tech, also thinks the stripping has obliterated the archeological site. An outdoorsman who has made many treks onto Armstrong Mountain, he says the stone-works have vanished since the mining began. He said he and young hikers have "gone over the whole mountain" and can find only a few unrecognizable sections of rubble.

West Virginia Tech basketball coach Goodrich "Pete" Phillips, an archeology fan, accompanied Woods and newsmen onto the mountain Tuesday. The only supposed remnant of the stone-works that could be found was a 20-foot sprawl of rocks beside a bulldozed road.

ON THE OTHER hand, two officers of Hawks Nest Mining Co. insisted Wednesday that the mystery walls haven't been harmed - even though both said they weren't sure exactly where the walls were located.

President E.E. Stephens of Kimberly said he never had been able to find any of the ruins "except about 100 feet of old loose rocks in one place."

Vice President Gordon Billheimer of Montgomery said he is sure that his work superintendents have enforced a pledge which the Hawks Nest firm made to the Antiquities Commission. The pledge was that "if we ran into the wall, we'd cut through it only once in order to get around it."

Billheimer acknowledged that, because of the deteriorated condition of the stone-works, it's possible that crews might not have recognized them and bulldozed right through.

Even so, Billheimer said he thinks the stripping has been farther away from the river than the site of the walls.

THE ARMSTRONG Mountain mystery walls apparently aren't unique. A similar situation, with a prehistoric village at the base of a hill, has been found at Fort Hill, Ohio.

Ohioans preserved their hill and installed a museum there.

West Virginians used their hill for a strip mine.

Native Americans