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Renfro Valley Bugle
Volume 20 Number 5

February 1967

From a paper read by Samuel Brown, M.D. of Lexington, Kentucky, before the American Philosophical Society, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Feb. 7, 1806

The Great Cave on Crooked Creek in Madison County, Kentucky is situated about 60 miles southeast of Lexington and about 150 yards from a large creek, which winds around the hill through which the cave affords a commodious passage for horses and wagons. The general level of the floor of the cave is 80 feet above the creek. The average height of the arch is 10 feet, though in many places it rises to 50 or 60. The breadth of the cave is generally about 40 feet, in some parts it is 70 or 80 feet. The floor has the appearance a large public road, which has been much frequented. The ceiling is in most places smooth, with but few incrustations of stalactites. In some of the chambers, however, there are appearances of Gothic rudeness and irregularity which are truly sublime. When these vast chambers are sufficiently illuminated by the torches and lamps of the workmen, they present scenes so uncommon and so romantic, that the most stupid beholder cannot comtemplate (contemplate) them without expressions of the greatest astonishment. During the winter season, the effect of these scenes is greatly increased by a stream of water which issuing from a small opening in the arch of the cave, about 20 feet above the floor and falling into a bason (basin), occasions a noise which in these calm regions can be heard at great distance, and echoing from arch to arch, fills the mind with the idea of some mighty cataract.

This cave was entered about 7 years ago by a Mr. Baker. He entered it by the North mouth, but preceeded (proceeded) only a short distance into it. On the suceeding (succeeding) day he brought his wife and two or three of their children to explore it. He carried a torch and his wife a supply of pine. After they had advanced within hearing of this torrent 400 or 500 yards from the north mouth, the only one then known, he dropped his torch and it was completely extinguished. During two days and two nights this miserable family wandered in total darkness without provisions and without water, though sometimes within hearing of a cataract which they durst not approach. At length, Mrs. Baker, trying to support herself on a rock perceived that it was wet. She conjectured that this was caused by the mud which they had brought in on their feet. Mr. Baker immediately ascended the rock and saw the light of day.

The temperature of the cave, during the last winter (the coldest we have had for several years) was generally 52 degrees. Sometimes the mercury rose to 57 but never sunk to the freezing point, when the thermometer was placed at any considerable distance within the cave. In one chamber, however, the heat was frequently so great as to be disagreeable. About 60 paces from the south entrance, a passage leading from the main avenue conducts you to this chamber, which is nearly circular and about 20 feet in diameter. The arch over this part of the main avenue and that over the passage leading to the warm chamber are equally elevated. But the ceiling of the chamber is 20 to 30 feet higher. As you approach the chamber, the floor gradually rises until it ascends about the level of the arch of the passage. As soon as you ascend above that level, you perceive the air is uncommonly warm, even when the temperature of the passage is near the freezing point. The air which fills the main avenue in summer and autumn is forced into this chamber whenever the external atmospheric air becomes so much condensed by cold as to rush into the mouth of the cave; and whenever during the winter any portion of air in the main avenue, where the passage leads off, is accidentally heated by fires or by carrying torches or lamps through the cave, as this heated air cannot escape by the mouth of the cave (for the arch descends towards the mouth) it ascends into this chamber and rises to the ceiling, where it must remain until the external and that in the passage and avenue acquire a higher temperature than the air in the chamber. This chamber then is constructed precisely upon the principles of the Russian vapor bath, so minutely described by Rumford.

During the winter season, the walls and floors of this remain perfectly dry; but in summer innumerable drops of water collect upon the rocks and trickle down upon the floor. This is particularly the case during very hot weather when the air is loaded with vapors. It would appear from this that the nitric acid is formed in the cave and is condensed upon the rocks, the lime of which it dissolves.

The depth of the earth on the floor of this cave has never been ascertained. In some places, the workmen have dug down 15 feet and the earth even at that depth contains nitre. In many places, it will yield more than 2 pounds to the bushel. The workmen have different modes of forming an opinion with regard to the quantity of nitre with which the earth may be impregnated but it is always considered as proof of the presence of nitre when the impression made in the dust by a hand or foot is eraced (erased). Where the nitre is very abundant, an impression made today will scarcely be visible tomorrow.

A concern for the glory and defence (defense) of our country should prompt such of our chemist as have time and leisure to investigate this interesting subject. It will be observed that I have not in this paper, hazared any opinion with regard to the formation of nitre in our sand rocks. I am disposed to suspect that our greatest chemist have still much to learn with regard to this salt, so valuable in time of peace, so indispensible (indispensable) in time of war.

Photo Caption:
THE WORLD ON ITS SHOULDERS-- The above rock formation (known as Atlas) divides the interior of Great Saltpetre Cave into its 2 Main sections. The area to the right is a room 200 foot long, 60 foot high, and 55 foot wide. The other section is a small room with the original markings of where Saltpetre was mined. Shown in the foreground are: Bob Miser, Professor Frank Hoyt, Jim Williams, Jim Walker, Mr. Lair and Paul Bailey. Professor Hoyt and his students are from the Mining Engineering Department of the University of Kentucky and were invited by Mr. Lair to study the cave.

Scanning and OCR work done by Andy Niekamp

Article Courtesy of Renfro Valley Entertainment Center

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