Landmarks of American Nature Writing

13. Landmarks V: The Caves

"In the lime-stone country, there are many caverns of very considerable extent," wrote Jefferson, himself the first cartographer of Madison's Cave. Like its springs, Virginia's caves became big business in the nineteenth century. Weyer's Cave (now Grand Caverns), discovered in 1804, was one of the region's earliest show caves, while Luray Caverns, uncovered in 1878, remains its largest.


American Farmer 3.35 (23 Nov. 1821): 273-74. Shown: Gen. Calvin Jones's "Description of Wier's Cave."

On an 1815 journey that took him from Harpers Ferry through the Shenandoah Valley, Gen. Calvin Jones found the Natural Bridge a great disappointment in comparison to the grandeur of Weyer's Cave:

[M]y expectations concerning the bridge, were too highly raised by Mr. Jefferson's splendid and fanciful description of it. When I saw it I felt disappointed. I walked to the edge and looked down without feeling terror. I went below and looked up, and was not astonished. It indeed possesses grandeur and sublimity; but to my mind, Wier's Cave is best worth the attention of the traveller. There every thing that the mind can conceive of the grand and the beautiful is realized. The Bridge affords only two or three views--the Cave a thousand.

R. L. Cooke. Description of Weyer's Cave. Staunton, Va.: Seminary Press, 1834. McGregor Library.

In his Description of Weyer's Cave, R. L. Cooke notes the impact the discovery of Weyer's Cave had on the interest shown in Madison's Cave, which Jefferson described and mapped in his Notes. "Madison's Cave," writes Cooke, "was known and visited as a curiosity, long before the discovery of Weyer's, but it is now passed by and neglected, as unworthy of notice compared with its more imposing rival, altho' it has had the pen of a Jefferson to describe its beauties." The discovery of Luray Caverns had a similar, though less significant, effect on Weyer's Cave.

B. C. Warren. Arsareth: A Tale of the Luray Caverns. New York: A. Lovell and Co., 1893. Barrett Library.

A romantic tale set in and around the Luray Caverns, Arsareth contains many distinctive western Virginia scenes, including "A Virginia Fox-Chase," the subject of Chapter XVIII.

Walter A. Tuttle. Tongo, the Hero of the Luray Caverns. Buffalo, N.Y.: Otto Ulbrich Co., 1922.

The preface to this fictionalized history of Native American inhabitation explains that "[i]n the year 1878, nearly fourteen hundred years after the time of the events in this story, the cave, discovered by the Indian hero of this tale, was rediscovered by Mr. William and Mr. Andrew Campbell, in company with Mr. Benton Stebbins. . . . Later explorations revealed the bones of our hero, found in the Skeleton Gorge."

Shenandoah Valley Railroad. Luray Excursion [Tickets for Luray Stage and Caverns of Luray]. Stamped on verso: S.V.R.R. Co., Troutville, Va., Aug. 2, 1883.

These three tickets provided their bearer conveyance between Luray Caverns and the Luray Station of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, as well as admission to the caverns.

Luray Caverns Corporation. Electric Light Views in the Caverns of Luray. Philadelphia: n.p., 1882. Shown: Saracen's Tent" and Cathedral Hall."

Note the wooden walkways and hanging power lines.

Luray Caverns Corporation. Hanging Rock, Luray Caverns. Stereograph, 1912.

One of 28 stereoscopic views of Luray Caverns available from the Luray Caverns Corporation. Viewed through two eyepieces, these two photographs of the same scene taken at slightly different angles impart a three-dimensional effect.


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