A trip to Carter County Caves, August 19, 1876
From the Portsmouth (Ohio) Times


We left Portsmouth on the steamer Scioto, Monday morning July 31 and 
arrived at Grayson, Ky at noon.[Tuesday] Here we saw our friend Hon. R.H. 
Davis, ex-Representative to the Kentucky Legislature from the Carter County 
district. Mr. Davis procured us a horse. In the afternoon we started for 
Charlotte Furnace nine miles from Grayson. After a few hours ride through a 
mountainous country we arrived at the furnace. As the party that started 
overland from Portsmouth was not to arrive until Wednesday, we spent 
Tuesday at the furnace. Wednesday morning we started for the caves which 
are six miles from the furnace arriving there at ten o'clock.  A party of 
three from Ashland was exploring the caves when we reached there. The 
Portsmouth boys arrived in the evening. We pitched our tent in a beautiful 
grove near Laurel cave, a good spring being near the camp. We spent the 
evening playing checkers and listening to the screams of a wildcat. 

Thursday morning, in company with Mose Ratliff, the champion guide of the 
caves, our party started to explore the great curiosities. First was the 
natural bridge about three hundred yards above the hotel. The bridge is a 
hundred feet wide and about seventy five feet high with a beautiful 
limestone arch; the country road passes over it and cave creek under it. 
Fifty yards further we entered bat cave. A sudden change of the atmosphere 
on entering these caves makes the visitor don his heavy clothing. 

About sixty yards from the entrance there is a natural bath room. It is off of 
the main cave and has a floor of smooth stone. Farther on is the largest 
room in the cave being 150 feet long and one hundred feet wide. Here we 
crossed the creek and entered what Ratliff called the menagerie room. In 
this room there are formations which the guides have named, such as the 
elephant. Taking a side glance at the formation it bares close resemblance 
to a small elephant, the stalagmites in the shape of people, also the 
distillery and jugs with handles are great curiosities. We traveled almost 
a half mile through the main passage and entered Simms pass or what the 
guide calls "fat mans misery." It is a small pass through the solid rock. 
There are pools of water in different parts of this cave. In one of these, 
where the water is cold as ice, two of our party took a bath. 

We then entered the hall room which is very large with a smooth floor of damp sand 
and a small elevated stand as if built for musicians. Out of this room we 
passed up a small natural stone stairway into the secret chamber then into 
the saw mill room. Here there is a formation of limestone which looks like 
a saw dust pile. Next to this apartment is the haunted chamber which got 
its name from the fact that the first man that ventured in to it thought he 
heard a strange noise and was frightened out. We next returned by way of 
the secret passage into the hall room and some distance through a rough 
passage brought us out into the open air. The cave is exceedingly long, two 
and a quarter miles. The same afternoon with our veteran guide, we visited 
Tygerts creek cliffs, one mile from the hotel. They are what are known 
geologically as carboniferous limestone formation as are also the caves, 
and are two hundred and twenty five feet high. Friday morning with William 
Frailey as guide, we entered Swingle cave better known as the saltpeter 
cave, its entrance faces the hotel. 

A man named Swingle made saltpeter here during the war of 1812 which was 
carried to Vanceburg, Ky. in sacks. Our entrance was down a stairway which 
leads into a room the hotel folks use as a cellar. Fresh meat will keep in 
here for months. Passages in this cave are very dusty and unattractive. The 
names of many Portsmouth people are herein written on the wall, those of 
Thomas Dugan and Wm, Waller being very prominent. In company with a party 
of thirty from Charlotte Furnace we made an exploration into Laurel Cave, 
named so from being covered with laurel. A short distance from the entrance 
we passed up a ladder into the main passage. This cave is very clean and 
with thirty lamps lighting up the mammoth hall it is very beautiful. Our 
party then visited X cave which is in the shape of the letter X. A man 
named Underwood first discovered and explored it. The entrance is directly 
in the rear of the hotel and opposite the Swingle cave. We ascended a 
ladder thirty feet high to the entrance, the cave is very low and narrow 
for some distance then it opens out about thirty feet high. It is narrow 
all through with a solid limestone floor. In one of its passages there is a 
formation resembling a large bird with a long neck. At the end of the cavern 
there is a room in the shape of a dome extending fifty feet high. In this, 
as is Bat cave, the stalactites hang in many different forms. In one place 
they are shaped like the pipes of an organ. No two could be found that sounded 
the same. X cave comes next to Bat cave, the former being the smallest 
and the latter being the largest.

The natural bridge, one and half miles away from the hotel, is a great 
curiosity. It is one hundred feet high and between two hundred and three 
hundred feet wide, longer in fact than the noted bridge in Virginia but not 
as high. There are two caves at Rev. Wm Kibby's three miles from the Carter 
Caves which he kindly showed us through. They are about four hundred yards 
long. A small creek runs through them. 

We would recommend a trip to Carter Caves to any person seeking health and pleasure. 
The best way of getting there is by Grayson, Ky. Distance from there to the caves is 
about twelve miles. Wm. H. Warnock, proprietor of the Cave Hotel spares no pains 
to make his guests comfortable. One dollar per day for board with guide included.       

Submitted by: Glen Haney

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