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Renfro Valley Bugle
Volume 20 Number 5

February 1967

Work Progressing on Historic Great Saltpetre Cave

Pictured above is the entrance to Great Saltpetre Cave showing the start made in its proposed development. This is one of two main entrances (the southern) and was enlarged to make it possible to get heavy machinery inside the cave to remove fallout and surplus dirt and sand from the recently discovered underground auditorium with a floor space of approximately twelve thousand square feet and a dome between forty-five and sixty-five feet.

Elsewhere, on this page, will be found a description of the cave written in 1806, seven years after its discovery and while the extensive work of taking saltpetre from it which employed sixty-two men and was considered the biggest commercial venture of the day in Eastern Kentucky, was in progress. This was included in a paper written by a Dr. Samuel Brown, who rode horseback from his home in Lexington, Kentucky, to read a paper before a gathering of the American Philosophical Society, founded by Benjamin Franklin at Philadelphia.

It will be noted that Dr. Brown gives the location of this cave in Madison County. At that time, Rockcastle County was included in Madison. A few changes that have taken place in the 150 years since the paper was written are to be noted. The roaring waterfall described by Dr. Brown has greatly subsided both in volume of water and noise created by it. Either the opening has been choked by sediment or the annually decreasing water table level in America has reduced the amount of water pouring in. The change of temperature of the room called the Russian Dome is no longer so noticeable. At that time, flaming torches and the open miner's lamps carried on the headgear of the sixty-two workmen created a heat in the cave which is not now present to bring about the concentration of warm air in the highest recess of the cave's ceiling.

Also included in Dr. Brown's report is an estimate of the amount of nitre in the biggest saltpetre producing caves of Kentucky, all of which--with one exception--were located in the area of this particular cave. Since Mammoth Cave is not included, it must be assumed that it had not yet come to the notice of the doctor who made this report in the same year in which Mammoth Cave was discovered, consequently, it was not likely to have so soon gone into production. Here is his list: The Great Cave on Crooked Creek, a branch of the Rockcastle, supposed to contain 1,000,000 pounds of nitre. Scotts Cave, two miles distant, 2,000,000, Davis Cave, six miles from the Great Cave, 50,000. Two other caves within a mile of the Great Cave, 20,000. A cave on Routh Creek, a branch of Green River, 10,000.

Scanning and OCR work done by Andy Niekamp

Article Courtesy of Renfro Valley Entertainment Center

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