05:2002 :: Luray Caverns, VA
Having already taken a day off from work to go fishing, Paige and I ended up driving to see Luray Caverns after our fishing trip was canceled. What an amazing site... and what an intersting history...
Luray, VA - Cold air rushing out of a limestone sinkhole atop a big hill west of Luray, Virginia, blew out a candle held by Andrew Campbell, the town tinsmith. It was on the morning of August 13, 1878, when Campbell, three other men, and his 13-year old nephew Quint, were exploring for a cave. With the help of his photographer companion, Benton Stebbins, they for four hours dug away loose rock, and candle in hand, Campbell followed by Quint slid down the rope. Man and boy could scarcely believe what they saw around them, for they found themselves in the largest caverns in the East, an eerie world of stalactites and stalagmites sparkling in the light of the candle.
Alexander J. Brand, Jr., a correspondent for the New York Times, was the first travel writer to visit Luray Caverns. "It's a magnificent cave, " he told townspeople. "The most beautiful I've ever seen. Trying to compare your cave to others would be like comparing New York City to the Town of Luray. " Professor Jerome J. Collins, the explorer, postponed his departure on a North Pole expedition to visit the caverns. The Smithsonian Institution sent a delegation of nine scientists to examine the caverns and praised them for their stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation. The Encyclopedia Britannica devoted an unprecedented page and a half to the cave's wonders. Others considered it to be the find of the century.
Land Battles and Acquisitions
Sam Buracker, of Luray, owned the land on which the caverns was discovered in 1878. Because of uncollected debts, a court ordered auction of all his land was held on September 14, 1878. Andrew Campbell, William Campbell, and Benton Stebbins purchased the cave tract, keeping their discovery secret until after the sale.
Because the true value of the property was not realized until after the purchase by the Campbells and Stebbins, court battles raged for two years attempting to prove fraud and decide rightful ownership. In April of 1881, the Supreme Court of Virginia nullified the purchase by the explorers. William T. Biedler, of Baltimore, Sam Burackers in-law and major creditor, then sold the property to The Luray Cave and Hotel Company, a subsidiary of the Shenandoah Railroad Company, now Norfolk and Western Railroad Company in April of 1881.
David Kagery of Luray, and George Marshall of Uniontown, Pa., purchased the property in July, 1890.
In October, 1890, the tract was sold to the Valley Land and Improvement Company. Under bankruptcy proceedings in 1893, the property was bought by Luray Caverns Company, headed by J. Kemp Bartlett of Baltimore. T. C. Northcott of Elmira, New York, leased the cave tract from the company in June, 1901.
The Luray Caverns Corporation, which had been chartered by Northcott, purchased the caverns property in February, 1905.
In, 1901, Colonel T.C. Northcott leased Luray Caverns and built a sanitarium, "Limair," the first air-conditioned home in America by installing a shaft into a cavern chamber which was connected to the house above. The shaft, five feet in diameter, was sunk into a nearby chamber and a 42-inch fan was installed. Powered by a five horsepower electric motor, this fan changed the entire air of the house every four minutes. The cool, naturally purified underground air filled every room. The bacteria-free air, ideal for those with respiratory illnesses, was filtered through limestone which removed dust and pollen. On the hottest day in summer, the interior of the house is always a cool and comfortable 70 degrees.
US National Landmark
The National Park Service and the Department of Interior, in 1974, designated Luray Caverns a Registered Natural Landmark. The announcement proclaimed this site possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the Nation's natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of mans environment.