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Boiling Spring Site

Boiling Spring Site

By Kelly McGuinness

Once five significant mounds marked the site of an ancient Indian village here. The mounds were between Little Harpeth River and a branch of the Boiling Springs. When the four burial mounds were excavated in 1895 and again in 1920, artifacts were found dating back to the Mississippian Period of Indian culture in Tennessee. Relics from the second excavation were placed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The ceremonial mound by Boiling Springs Academy was left undisturbed.


Location: Intersection of Moores Lane and Wilson Pike (Brentwood)

The “Boiling Spring” feeds a small stream that runs into the Little Harpeth River just north of this site. The spring provides a year-round supply of water, which prompted prehistoric and modern people to establish settlements in its vicinity.

Today, an 1823 schoolhouse called Boiling Spring Academy and the remains of a prehistoric civilization known as the Fewkes Group Archaeological Site are present at the Boiling Spring Site. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and is considered to be one of the most valuable historical resources in Williamson County.

The Fewkes Group Archaeological Site

The Fewkes Site was excavated in October of 1920 by archaeologist William Myer, who named it to honor Dr. J. Walter Fewkes, Chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Myer’s excavations yielded evidence to indicate a continuous, 350-year occupation by prehistoric Mississippians beginning around the year 1100 A.D.

According to the book, Two Prehistoric Villages in Middle Tennessee, Myer was able to identify the remains of a town square that had once been enclosed by four mounds. He also found remains of at least twelve circular houses located around the outer edges of these mounds (and a few that had been built on top them), as well as an additional mound near the river.

Artifacts recovered from the site include fragments of clay pots, vases, pieces of burnished black pottery, stone idols, tools and arrow points, and hooded bottles that were used to hold medicine. Trash heaps revealed a balanced diet of beans, corn, squash, and berries, as well as fish, deer, and a variety of small animals.

Myer’s discovery of a large cemetery and additional burials scattered across the 14.6 acre site, coincided with earlier reports that graves had been unearthed there during the 19th century; first by archaeologist Joseph Jones in 1876 and later by P.E. Cox, Tennessee’s first State Archaeologist. Interestingly, the variety in burial customs has led to the conclusion that the site was occupied by at least two different groups of people.

Myer refers to the first inhabitants as the “flexed-burial people” because they buried their dead in circular and hexagonal stone coffins, in a flexed position. He credits them with constructing the mounds and the majority of the artifacts recovered.

The second group to inhabit the Boiling Springs Site was a smaller tribe that buried their dead in rectangular stone-slab coffins. The deceased were placed on their backs, bodies fully extended.

While it seems to have been a common practice for Native Americans in the area to bury deceased children under the family home, Myer’s description of one such burial is anything but ordinary. Myer describes a 12-year that was laid to rest next to a fire bowl (it was customary for fire bowls to be situated in the ground, level with the home’s dirt floor). In this case however, it was revealed that the rim of the fire bowl had been cut away to admit the top of the child’s skull. Stranger still was that the fire bowl was still filled with ashes and while the ashes covered the top of the child’s head, the skull showed no evidence of having been subjected to fire.

Although, the fate of these people is not known for certain, archaeological evidence suggests that they either migrated elsewhere or gradually adopted a different lifestyle.

Just as these early people had been drawn to the Boiling Springs area, so were white settlers. Several centuries later, the site would become home to a one-room schoolhouse known as Boiling Springs Academy its prehistoric occupants completely forgotten… well, almost.

See Photos of Boiling Spring Academy