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DESERVING OF PRESERVING
Man discovered his beloved land is an ancient mound
Sunday, October 20, 2002
By Dean Narciso
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Fresh from a stint with the Army, Tom Montei was searching for a place to
settle down when he ambled up a steep, wooded hillside off a dirt path in what
is now Jefferson Township.
It was the summer of 1946.
A For Sale sign caught his eye. The view from the top closed the deal.
"I parked there,'' Montei said, pointing to a roadside gate. "I walked up the
hill, and that's all there was to it. It's just beautiful up here.''
The mammoth oak and sassafras, which stand on 15 acres just east of Rocky Fork
Creek and south of Morse Road, created a gateway to a retreat for Montei and
It was the pristine, oblong hill that attracted Montei, an Ohio State
University business graduate who worked with his father in various
Columbus-area businesses after World War II.
"I was just looking for land, happy to be out of the Army and looking for a
place to put my roots down,'' said Montei, 76.
He paid a few thousand dollars for the property. The land, however, was never
used as a home for the Monteis; instead, it became the Bexley family's
But it would take more than a quarter-century for Montei to learn just how
special the mound was -- to learn that it had been used by another culture
thousands of years before.
In 1975 -- after having owned the property nearly 30 years -- Montei called
the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to see whether the land could be
turned into a nature preserve.
Montei thought that others should value the property as much as he did.
But Steve Goodwin, then head of special projects and planning for the
department's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, said the land would have
to be home to unusual or protected plants or animals to qualify.
The domed hill on its eastern edge, Goodwin said, appeared to be man-made.
Goodwin referred Montei to the Ohio Historical Society, where Montei met
Martha Otto, curator of archaeology.
Otto's staff verified that the dome was, in fact, an earthwork, likely part of
an Adena or Hopewell village. The American Indians occupied parts of Ohio
about 2,000 years ago.
With Montei's blessing, the property was declared an official archaeological
preserve, which means it can never be commercially developed.
Although hundreds of American Indian mounds exist in Ohio, few are privately
dedicated as preserves, Otto said.
"The designation stays with the land,'' she said. "It's sort of like a
"If it hadn't been for this arrangement with the archaeological preserve, he
might have wanted to have kept this property that way, but the next generation
might not have.''
But Montei -- who 20 years ago turned down more than $100,000 for the
property, now valued at about $500,000 -- needed further assurance that the
mound wouldn't be touched.
So he enlisted the help of lawyers and land preservationists and, in 1991,
founded the Montei Mound Preserve, a nonprofit corporation to secure funds for
Today, the corporation has more than $350,000, public financial records show.
Montei would like to see some of the money used toward transforming the mound
into an educational site, where children could learn about the American
Indians who used it.
"The land was always more important than the money,'' Montei said.
Word of the protected parcel has spread.
"That's one of the reasons we bought the house,'' said Mark Bueltmann, who
moved in across the street two years ago. "We heard it was an Indian burial
ground and because of that, they would never widen the road.''
Bueltmann's wife, Trese, has explored the area, despite the No Trespassing
signs that are posted.
Mr. Bueltmann would like to see Montei's dream of an educational park
"Anything that contributes to the beauty of the area is wonderful, especially
so close to all this development.''
Just 10 miles southwest, the peak of the LeVeque Tower Downtown can be seen.
The mound overlooks million-dollar mansions to the south and expanding
commerce to the north and west.
An American Indian group agrees with Mr. Bueltmann.
"Apparently, God has touched this man's mind and heart (for him) to have such
a love to preserve it,'' said Mark Welsh, program director of the Native
American Center of Central Ohio. "Unfortunately, too many of them get sold,
and then you have shopping centers or neighborhoods on top of them.''
But Welsh worries that publicity about the mound will bring out "relic
hunters'' who might trash the site. Even now, the ancient ground is scattered
with both freshly fallen leaves and a few weather-blanched beer cans.
Recently, Montei stood at the summit for the first time in a long time. A
weakened heart has kept him from making the climb in recent years. He was
driven there in his nephew's sport-utility vehicle to look over the land last
"You have to get up here on the top before you recognize the majesty of the
place,'' Montei said.
He recalled how he and his father cultivated gladioluses, tulips and other
flowers using their air-cooled tractor, which Montei drove from his Bexley
home to the mound.
The tractor sits rusting today within the felled planks of its one-time shed
at the base of the hill.
The beauty of the peak still comforts Montei, just as it did when he first saw
it 56 years ago.
"I'm not much of a religious person,'' he said. "I believe in God because I
"This,'' he said, supporting his lanky, 6-foot frame with a weathered hand
placed against a towering oak, "is as much of a cathedral as I've ever been
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