Kolomoki Mounds State Park is a state park located in the northeast corner of the U.S. state of Georgia, between Perkins and Millen in Jenkins County. The park contains one of the largest surviving groups of prehistoric Native American mounds in the Southeastern United States, with at least 30 mounds rising more than 10 feet above the surrounding landscape. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 16, 1970.
Kolomoki’s mounds are believed to have been built by peoples of the Hopewell culture that existed from 1000 BC to 300 AD. They were most likely constructed by members of the Caddo tribe, who inhabited this part of Georgia and North Carolina at the time. Kolomoki means “the meeting of the waters” in the language of the Creek Indians, which refers to the creek that runs through the village and into the river. This native village occupied much of what is now Kolomoki Mounds State Park. Archaeologists have discovered numerous artifacts here, including arrowheads, pottery fragments, stone tools and pipes.
Excavations conducted during the 1960s uncovered evidence that the people lived off the fish they caught in the creek as well as corn, beans, and squash. There is also proof that members of this tribe traded beads, cloth, and other valuable items. At least thirty mounds rise more than ten feet above the surrounding countryside. Twenty-four are currently standing; four are still being built when the Europeans reached the area. All are composed of earth and rock, without any trees or vegetation. Most of the mounds are flat-topped platform mounds, but there are also groupings of conical mounds, linear mounds, and hills that served as ceremonial centers. The largest mound measures 250 feet across its base, while Mount Rogers, a mountain near by, is 285 feet tall. In addition to the mounds themselves, the park includes two small lakes for fishing and boating, picnic facilities, and hiking trails leading up onto the mounds.
Visitors can even camp overnight in one of six designated sites. The park is open year round, though access is limited in the winter months due to snow and freezing temperatures. Kolomoki Mounds State Park is situated along both banks of Pinnacle Mountain Lake, a natural widening of the Tomoka River. The lake extends upstream approximately 2 miles, beyond the park boundary. The name Kolomoki appears to be an altered form of the word ‘kolonok’, derived from the Creek phrase, iwashcolonok (meaning assembly place), reflecting the fact that it was used primarily as a gathering point for tribal gatherings. According to folklore, Kolomoki received its name because water would naturally pool there after rains, making it the “meeting of the waters”. However, according to Dr. Patricia Beaver of Emory University, this etymology does not hold true. She suggests that the name may actually derive from the Creek term kolo (water) + mino (mound). Whatever their origin, Kolomoki has long provided a vital resource for the inhabitants of the region.
Kolomoki Mounds State Park is named after the ancient village of Kolomoki, which flourished in the 6th century, in present-day eastern Georgia. Located just north of the modern park, the village is said to have covered an estimated 1 square mile, and consisted of about 50 huts. The natives are thought to have been a matriarchal society, led by older women known as weroance. Men were apparently expected to fight for the right to marry the chief’s daughter, whose hand in marriage determined the success of the community.
The village is mentioned in the writings of DeSoto, who encountered the tribe during his 1539 journey up the Mississippi River. On June 7, 1564, Spanish explorer Sebastin Vizcano de Ayala wrote in his journal that he had found a village of 200 houses, plus stockades, on an island in the Pearl River. The village proved untenable against the attacks of the local tribes, and the colony fell apart soon after. In 1569, another Spaniard, Juan Rogel, visited the village, and described it as containing “about forty cabins, very solidly builded,” and surrounded by a high stockade. Apparently the village did not survive the season, as no trace of it was seen again. In 1571, a Jesuit mission school was founded nearby, using materials obtained from the ruins of the village.
As early as 1819, John Berrien noted in his diary that Kolomoki had been stripped of all its trees and burned down so that soldiers could construct fortifications around it. A decade later, William Williamson reported that Kolomoki had been abandoned except for the garrison stationed there. By the 1840s, Kolomoki Mounds became a resort owned and operated by Colonel H. G. Wright, who planted cottonwood trees throughout the site and established a hotel there. The resort failed shortly after the Civil War ended, and the property was sold back to the Jenkins family in 1865. Five years later, Jeptha R. Kennedy acquired the land and ran cattle there. He died soon after, leaving the property to his son, Joe L. Kennedy, who continued to operate the farm until 1903, when he too passed away.
That year, Annie Belle Kennedy, Joe’s daughter, married Sam Wilson Jr., and took over management of the farm. She remained there until her death in 1918, having raised seven children in the village. Her oldest son, Sam III, then went on to marry Neoma Goree, and together they made their home in Cleveland, Tennessee, where they remained for the rest of their lives. After Mrs. Kennedy’s death, the Wilsons continued to manage the farm, leasing it out to various farmers until 1945, when they decided to sell it. The property was purchased by Joe L. Kennedy’s grandson, Virgil T. Kennedy, and his wife Edith, known as Dixie. They moved to Atlanta, and began restoring some of the old mounds for the first time since the 1870s. Their efforts were interrupted by World War II, in which Mr. Kennedy was called to serve in the Navy. While he was gone, Dixie arranged for the sale of the farm to the state for use as a park.
With the help of archaeologist Joe Douglas, she identified several possible locations for the original village, and they marked each one with a marker. Later, Dougherty Valley Village was excavated, and the foundations of the native village were revealed. These were joined by the remains of Fort Zachary Taylor, which had been built atop Seven Islands Mountain prior to the war. Evidence such as broken glass, discarded food, and animal bones helped establish a timeline for the settlement, allowing researchers to pinpoint the arrival of the English colonists to within a few years. Based upon radiocarbon dates and other clues, the team concluded that the village had probably been built somewhere in the vicinity of Kolomoki Mounds, and had disappeared almost completely before the arrival of European settlers.
To make matters worse, a severe drought struck the area in 1946, reducing the size of the crops grown there. Because of these factors, the plantation struggled financially, and eventually went bankrupt. In 1957, construction started on Interstate 75, which cut off the town of Millen completely from the outside world. Folks left, and only a handful stayed behind to tend the farms. The state bought the properties in 1961, adding them to Kolomoki Mounds State Park. The park officially opened to the public in May, 1963.