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Cherokee Caverns

Cherokee Caverns
8524 Oak Ridge Highway

History of Cherokee Caverns

The caverns began forming about 300 million years ago. Shells and skeletons of ancient marine life mixed with sand, clay, and other material to form the Copper Ridge Dolomite rock.

This occurred in an inland sea, which covered the area at that time. Ancient earthquakes created cracks in the Dolomite rock, as the inland sea gradually receded the water enlarged the cracks to form the caverns. Groundwater, acquiring a small amount of carbonic acid from the air and vegetation on the surface, dissolves the Dolomite rock as it works its way into the caverns.

The Caverns were first entered by early American Indians as indicated by cane torch marks (stoke marks) found on the cavern's walls. The caverns were rediscovered about 1854 by Robert Crudgington, a farmer. According to legend, Crudgington was hunting on the hillside when he noticed fog emerging around rocks. After moving the rocks he entered the caverns and at the time was thought to have been the first person to see the caverns. In 1866 Crudgington bought 800 acres of farmland, including the caverns. Crudgington’s daughter, Margaret Crudgington Gentry was urged by friends to open the caverns to the public.

In 1929 the first commercial tours were given under the name Gentry’s Cave, but within a year she renamed it Grand Caverns. The caverns were well advertised and were well visited by many people. In 1946 Margaret passed away and her family sold the caverns in 1947. The property and cave were leased resulting in it being renamed, Atomic Caverns. This name came from a large stalagmite column, which was thought to resemble the bottom of the “mushroom” of the famous Bikini Atomic test, which was heavily publicized during that time. During this period of time Homer Harris, known as the world's tallest singing cowboy, along with his famous performing trick horse, “Stardust’ held a one-day western music show in the Crystal Ballroom of the caverns. A second show was held outside the cavern's entrance. Admission price for adults was 75 cents and children 35 cents, for both shows.

In the mid-1950s the caverns were redeveloped once again and opened with the name Caveman’s Palace, but after a short time, the name was changed to Palace Caverns.

In the 1960s much improvement was made to the cavern trail and lighting. A restaurant was built over the cavern entrance and the cave was reopened with a new fifth name, Caverns Of The Ridge.

In 1970 the caverns underwent further development and once again was given a new name, Cherokee Firesite Ceremonial Caverns. This unusually long name was soon changed to its seventh and current name of Cherokee Caverns.

In October 1980 Cherokee Caverns Restaurant was destroyed by a fire believed to have begun in the kitchen area. The fire destroyed the restaurant, the gift shop and the adjoining stone cottage, which had been built in the late 1800s. During the next eight years, the caverns experienced extensive vandalism and became the local “party” place.

Over 22 years ago, the cave was brought under the protection of volunteers. Events are held several times per year to raise money to pay annual insurance that allows the cave to be open to visitors. Money is also raised for regular maintenance, preservation, and upgrades.