Fountain Cave

Pig's Eye Parrant's Cavern and Tavern

Useful Information

Location: Below Shepard Road, Between Drake and Randolph Street, St. Paul.
Open: not accessible
Fee: n/a
Classification: Speleologysandstone cave SpeleologyRiver cave
Light: n/a
Dimension: L=350m
Guided tours: no
Bibliography: Greg Brick (1995): St. Paul Underground - What Happened to Fountain Cave?, Ramsey County History, Winter 1995 Volume 29 Number 4, Ramsey County Historical Society.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1832 Pierre Parrant arrived at Fort Snelling.
1838 Pierre Parrant moved his whiskey still from Fort Snelling to Fountain Cave.
1840 Parrant evicted by the military authorities, cave used as a storehouse.
1850 cave becomes a tourist attraction.
1852 pavilion opened nearby offering refreshments and lights for exploring.
1880 cave influenced by the growing city and its sewage, not used as tourist attraction any more.
1960 cave entrance buried during the construction of Shepard Road.


Pierre Parrant was also known as Pig's Eye because he was blind in one eye. He came to America from Canada in 1829, but after some trouble with the law, he moved north to Minnesota. Near Fort Snelling he started to selling whiskey to Indians, fellow squatters, and soldiers from the fort. He discovered Fountain Cave and moved his whiskey still from Fort Snelling to the cave in 1838, which provided shelter as well as running water to make whiskey. So he became the first person of European descent to live in what is now the city of St. Paul. The city formed around his cave and tavern. However, with the growth of the settlement, his liquor business was a nuisance to his new neighbours, and he was kicked out of Fountain Cave and at least three other locations. Finally in 1845 Parrant moved to Winnipeg.

After Pig's Eye's departure, the cave was used as a storehouse and then as a tourist attraction. It was described as "a marble temple", issuing water so pure it resembled "a shower of diamonds". A pavilion was opened nearby offering refreshments and lights for exploring the cave. Fountain Cave was featured in the "Tourists' Guide to the Health and Pleasure Resorts of the Golden Northwest".

But as the city grew, the sewage of the settlement and, most important, of the Omaha railroad, who used the cave as a cesspit, polluted the tourist attraction. The visits to the cave faded and finally the mouth of the cave was sealed by the construction of Shepard Road.

Fountain Cave was originally called In-Yan Ti-Pi by the local Dakota people. It was about 350 m long, possibly Minnesota's longest natural sandstone cave. It was formed by the erosion by a little stream from the wetlands above. A 50 m long winding passage with running water on the floor led to a circular room of 15 m in diameter. Today the cave is not accessible, but there is a plate commemorating the site above.