Organ Cave

Historic Organ Cave - Organ (Greenbrier) Cave System


Useful Information

Location: Near Organ Cave, Irish Corner District of Greenbrier County.
14km east of Lewisburg, 14km west of White Sulphur Springs, 5km south of Ronceverte, WV.
I64 exit 175 Caldwell, Highway 63 west, between Route 219 and Route 60.
Open: NOV to MAR Mon-Fri 12, 14, Sat 11, 13, 15. If weather is bad call in advance to make sure cave is open.
APR to OCT Mon-Fri 10, 12, 14, Sat 10-16.
Spelunking tours after appointment only.
[2008]
Fee: Adults USD 14, Children (6-12) USD 7, Children (0-5) free.
Groups (10+): 10% discount.
Groups (20+): 20% discount.
School Groups (20+): Elementary Schools USD 4, Middle Schools USD 7, High Schools USD 7.
All prices plus tax.
[2008]
Classification:  Karst cave, complex cave system. Denmar formation of the Missississippian limestone (300-500 Ma).
Light: electric
Dimension: L=61,882m, VR=148m, T=13°C;.
Guided tours:  
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography:  
Address: Organ Cave, 417 Masters Rd., Ronceverte, WV 24970, Tel: +1-304-645-7600. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
Last update:$Date: 2014/07/21 08:13:30 $

History

 
1704discovered.
1791visited by Thomas Jefferson.
1800smining of saltpetre and exploration started.
used as a shelter and for saltpeter production during the War of 1812 and the Civil War (1861-1865).
1822John Rogers became the cave owner. It was now called John Roger's Organ Cave.
1836John Rogers sold the cave to James Robinson.
1837earliest accounts of cave tourism.
1878his grandson James H. Boone received the cave.
1900sJames H. Boone opened the cave to the public, using candle light.
1914pathways and Edison light bulbs installed.
1926sold to George Carter.
2008featured on Cities of the Underworld, a tv documentary series by the History Channel.

Description

Organ Cave got its name from the largest formation on the public tour, which looked like a huge church organ and thus was called Rock Organ. It is a cave of superlatives, as it is more than 60km long. This is #30 on the list of the longest caves of the world and eighth longest cave of the U.S.A. (at least in 2008). But beneath its size and speleothems this cave is especially important as a cave with a long history and it is regarded as the birthplace of American paleontology. It was visited 8000 B.C. by Native Americans. The European settlers discovered the cave as early as 1704, and from this time it was used for various purposes.

Thomas Jefferson supposedly visited the cave in 1791. There is a paper in which he descibes the discovery of the fossil remains of the pre-historic three-toed sloth. He describes the location as "a cave on Frederic Cromer's place beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west side of the Greenbrier River". This is generally interpreted as Organ Cave, which did not have a name at that time. The farm on which Organ Cave is located did at one time belong to a Frederic Cromer. But it is located on the east side of the Greenbrier River, not on the west side. Probably Thomas Jefferson did not have a compass with him when he visited the cave.

Rather funny is the modern aftermath of this event. In a brochure of the cave, published during the cold war the story was interpreted like this: "Thomas Jefferson visited ORGAN CAVE in 1778 and according to legend discovered and had removed the complete skeleton of a gigantic monster, probably a dinosaur. This specimen is in Baltimore, Maryland. The animal's footprint is clearly visible today." However, the same brochure talks about the safety in the spacious rooms from the atomic thread, which resulted in the designation of the cave as a fallout shelter by the Civil Defense. We doubt the safety of the cave, but it is possible that the Civil Defense did not know this. Near the entrance is a large shed shown on the tour, where supplies were stored in case the cave needed to be used as a fallout shelter.

Organ Cave was used as a shelter by the men of General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. The cave mouth and the chambers behind are big enough to allow the accomodation of many people. Even religious services for more than one thousand men were given inside the cavern. A second important role of the cave during the war, was the role as saltpeter source for the production of gunpowder. The remains of this mining can still be seen on the tour. Saltpeter Hoppers, wooden structures used for leaching saltpetre from the cave soil, preserved by the dryness in this section of the cave. They were made from local woods, cucumber, oak and locust, fastened together with wooden pegs. The nitrate solution was gathered in wooden troughs, placed beneath the Saltpeter Hoppers, and then evaporated to produce the saltpeter.

It seems this is shown on the tour by more than 30 mannequins, dressed as confederate soldiers and placed all along the tour path. They show scenes of mining operations, and daily life of soldiers, some stand high up in crevices as sentries. The weird aspect is the fact that all soldiers are females with beards. According to the guide this has nothing to do with tomboys, male mannequins were simply more expensive.

Organ Cave is rich on paleontological finds: black bear, bobcat, dire wolf, armadillo, porcupine, brown (grizzly) bear, saber-toothed cat, complicated-toothed horse, long-nosed peccary, caribou, and the tooth of an american mastodon were found in the cave.

Organ Cave contains at least a dozen troglobitic species. It is the type locale for four species of bats. Seven species of bats are found at Organ Cave, among them the Indiana Bat, which is listed on the U.S. Federally Endangered List, and the extremely rare Small Footed Bat. Beneath the show cave operation, there are serious thrats to the cave life by the West Virginia Department of Highways' plan to upgrade nearby U.S. Route 219 to a four lane highway. The construction of the road will require logging and earth movements, which causes runoff into the cave. Because of this the cave was placed on the Top Ten List of Endangered Karst Ecosystems by the Karst Waters Institute in 1999.

We have never visited the cave ourselves, but the comments we found on the web tell us, that this is a very interesting cave, but the regular cave tour is rather poor, although somewhat weird. There are numerous spelunking tours, which are probably much more interesting. The so-called Extended Exploring Expeditions start with two hour tours, but there are also overnight tours which take 18 hours.


See also


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