Ancient City on the Apalachicola
One of the most significant archaeological sites in the Deep South, the Chattahoochee Landing Mounds complex was a ceremonial center of the Mississippian era (AD 900 – 1550).
Originally composed of seven mounds, three of which are visible today, the complex was the center of a large city that thrived on the banks of the upper Apalachicola River as much as 1,000 years ago. The site is now protected and preserved by the City of Chattahoochee.
The Chattahoochee Landing Mounds were constructed during the Fort Walton Era, the name given to the Mississippian time period in Northwest Florida. Evidence has been found of earlier use of the site, dating back thousands of years before the time of Christ. The reason for such importance is obvious.
Looking upstream from the mounds, visitors today see the Jim Woodruff Dam. Prior to the completion of that dam in 1958, however, they would have seen the original confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers. These two rivers drain a vast area of Georgia, Alabama and Florida before combining at Chattahoochee to form the Apalachicola.
During prehistoric times, this river system was a major network for commerce and trade. Chiefdoms as far north as the mountains of North Georgia sent copper, mica and other products down the rivers for trade, while prehistoric Indians living along the Gulf of Mexico sent shells and other items of interest up the Apalachicola for trade.
The Chattahoochee Landing Mounds were likely the center of a large commercial city because of their location immediately below the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. Commerce coming from both upstream and down would meet here, giving the site wealth and power.
While some archaeological research has been done at Chattahoochee Landing, including a recent effort to identify the locations of the all seven of the original mounds, much about the site remains a mystery. No one is sure example when the mounds were built, for example, although it is thought that the work was completed early in the Mississippian era and probably between A.D. 900 and A.D. 1200.
The exact purpose of the mounds has also been debated. The first “researcher” to study them was famed site looter C.B. Moore who pronounced them to be “domiciliary” in nature. He thought that they functioned only as platforms for houses and other structures but had no other real purpose.
Moore’s assessment of the mounds, however, was wrong. Human remains were found in some of the mounds and they clearly served multiple purposes.
One, in fact, may not have been a Native American mound at all. Recent study indicates that one of the smaller mounds is almost identical to a series of War of 1812 earthen field ovens found at Prospect Bluff (Fort Gadsden) on the lower Apalachicola River. The British soldiers responsible for building that fort also built a second one at River Landing Park in Chattahoochee.
Other recent study suggests that the mounds may have functioned as an astronomical observatory. The sun and other stars appear to align with certain mounds at key points of the year. This is similar to the situation that researchers have found at Stonehenge in England and some locals even refer to the Chattahoochee Landing mounds as “Chattahoocheehenge!”
The alignment of Indian mounds like those at Chattahoochee to the summer or winter solstice or other astronomical events is not unusual. The massive mound complex at Kolomoki, Georgia, absolutely reveals the longest and shortest day of the year, as does the mound group at Spiro, Oklahoma. Other mound groups across the eastern United States appear to have served similar functions.
Prehistoric people may have depended on the mounds to help them identify celestial events so they would know when a new season was approaching.
The mounds at Chattahoochee undoubtedly served other purposes as well. The largest one likely provided a base for the home of the town’s principal leader or priest. Its top appears to have originally had at least two levels and more than one structure may have stood there. Time has softened its outline but the massive platform mound was pyramidal in shape.
The Chattahoochee Landing Mounds were abandoned by their builders long before the Spanish entered the vicinity in the 1600s. Travelers marveled at them over the years and often commented on their size and presence.
The Chattahoochee Landing Mounds can be seen today at River Landing Park in Chattahoochee, Florida. An interpretive marker on the largest one tells part of their story and a new self-guided walking tour being developed by Chattahoochee Main Street will help visitors locate and see several of the others.
The city is also working with Chattahoochee Main Street and others to restore one of the lost mounds as an exhibit where visitors can learn the story of the ancient site. The restored mound will likely be complete by late 2017 and will provide an example of the original appearance of the structures.
River Landing Park is also the scene of a number of other historic sites. These include Nicolls’ Outpost, a fort built by the British during the War of 1812; the Scott Massacre of 1817, the first U.S. defeat of the Seminole Wars; Florida’s “inland Graveyard of Ships,” a collection of historic paddlewheel steamboat wrecks, and the historic early 20th century Victory Bridge.
The mounds can be reached by following River Landing Road from its intersection with US 90 down the hill to the Apalachicola River. The primary mound will be directly ahead of you as you approach the boat ramp. Facilities at River Landing Park include picnic tables, restrooms, playgrounds, walking trails, boat ramps and a floating dock. The park is free to visit.