XENIA TOWNSHIP — Ground was broken Monday in Greene County for a new state park that will honor the legacy of the Shawnee Indians who once dwelled here.
Located on U.S. 68 North on land once occupied by the Tecumseh Motel, the Great Council State Park — Ohio’s 76th state park — will provide a connection to the state’s Native American and pioneer past. Much of that history took place in nearby Oldtown, one of the largest-known Shawnee settlements in Ohio.
“This is going to be a very, very special place,” Gov. Mike DeWine said prior to joining others for the ceremonial dirt tossing. “This site was a very important site. In this site we’re going to tell the story of the Shawnees.”
When completed and opened some time in 2023, the park will feature a 12,000-square-foot interpretive center with an architectural design based on the traditional council house that was historically used by the Shawnee tribes. Inside, visitors will find three floors of exhibits, a theater area, a living stream, and a gallery, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which will run the park.
ODNR has been working with the Ohio History Connection and the three sovereign and federally recognized Shawnee tribes: Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma; the Shawnee Tribe; and the Absentee Shawnee to develop plans for the interpretive center. All displays will honor the Shawnee tribes of the past and allow present-day members to share their stories and legacy.
One of those members, Eastern Shawnee Tribe Chief Glenna J. Wallace, attended Monday’s ceremony.
“It’s a marvelous thing, not just for the Shawnee,” Wallace said. “You can’t begin to stress how important it is. Even though we were removed from here, we love our state of Oklahoma, Ohio will always be a special place to us. We would like our stories told.”
Wallace said the Shawnee want people to “talk with us, rather than talk about us” and she hopes visitors to the park realize that there were once as many as 45 tribes in Ohio and now there are none.
DeWine said telling the Shawnee story is important in Ohio.
“The history that we all heard as we grew up whether it was in regard to Blackfish or Tecumseh, Shawnee Indians, it’s just kind of part of our heritage,” he said.
More than 1,000 called Oldtown home from 1777-1780, which will be the focal point of the park and the interpretive center. It is also believed to be the birthplace of Tecumseh.
“It is the intersection of our European American settlers coming in, Native Americans here, sometimes in battle, sometimes in peace,” DeWine said. “But those two forces really coming together. One of the stories I think we hear about from the settlers’ point of view is when Daniel Boone was captured by Shawnees and brought here. And lived here for six months.”
The park will be heavy on programming and should appeal to everyone, according to ODNR Director Mary Mertz.
“This new center will be an educational tool that can take visitors into the past and inspire an appreciation for another time,” she said. “We hope to see families, school groups, scouts, and all people use this space to learn more about the tribes who used to call this part of Ohio home.”
The Great Council State Park’s location will make it an easy in and out from both U.S. 68 as well as from The Greene County Trails system, according to Township Administrator Alan Stock.
“This state park will be another destination location within Xenia Township,” he said. “The program-driven park will honor the contributions of the Shawnee Nation and the original meeting house that tried to unify the tribes in this area. Xenia Township is proud to have worked with ODNR for the setting of it’s 76th state park within the township boundaries.”