Grand Caverns

Weyer's Cave


Lithograph "The Drums. The Tapestry Room. Weyer's Cave." from Beyer (1858): Album of Virginia: Illustrations of the Old Dominion.

Useful Information

Location: 5 Grand Caverns Drive, Grottoes, VA 24441.
I-81 exit 235, Weyer's Cave, onto Rt 256 to the town of Grottoes. Signposted.
(38.26047, -78.83542)
Open: NOV to MAY daily 10-16.
JUN to OCT daily 9-17.
Closed 01-JAN, 24-DEC, 25-DEC, Thanksgiving.
Online booking mandatory.
[2024]
Fee: Adults USD 25, Children (3-12) USD 15.50, Seniors (60+) USD 23.50.
AAA Members: Adults USD 22.50, Children (3-12) USD 12.50, Seniors (60+) USD 21.50.
Public Servants: Adults USD 22.50, Children (3-12) USD 12.50, Seniors (60+) USD 21.50.
Public Servants are military, police, fire, and rescue personnel with proper id.
Grottoes Residents: Adults USD 15.50, Children (6-12) USD 12.50.
[2024]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System LightColoured Light ExplainFirst Caves with Electric Light
Dimension: L=6,083 m, T=12 °C
Guided tours: L=1,600 m, D=70 min, MinAge=3.
Photography: allowed, no tripods
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: David Hunter Strother (1857): The Adventures of Porte Crayon and his Cousins Bookonline
Address: Grand Caverns, PO Box 478, 5 Grand Caverns Drive, Grottoes, VA 24441, Tel: +1-540-249-5705, Free: +1-888-430-CAVE. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1804 discovered by 18-year-old Bernard Weyer, a young trapper, looking for his missing trap.
1806 opened to the public, first show cave of the United States, named Weyers Cave.
1810 Matthias Amend deeds the property to his daughter Mary and her husband, Henry V. Bingham.
1819 Bingham sells the land to John Mohler, Jacob Mohler becomes caretaker.
1840 John Leonard Mohler, the nephew of Jacob Mohler becomes caretaker.
1857 The Adventures of Porte Crayon and his Cousins published by David Hunter Strother.
1861–1865 during the Civil War, the cave was visited by both Confederate and Union soldiers.
26-SEP-1864 visited by W. W. Miles.
1889-1893 cave owned by the Grottoes Land Company.
1889 electric light installed.
1910 purchased by the Pirkey Brothers, who built a lime kiln on the property.
1926 bought by Holly Stover and renamed Grand Caverns by the new owner.
1938 new entrance building inaugurated.
1973 the National Park Service designated the cave a National Natural Landmark in recognition of its shield formations and other features.
2004 re-survey of the cave system by the Virginia Region chapter of the National Speleological Society.

Description

Solomon's Temple. From David Strother (1857): The Adventures of Porte Crayon and his Cousins.
The Cataract. From David Strother (1857): The Adventures of Porte Crayon and his Cousins.

Grand Caverns is the oldest show cave in the USA, it is open for the public continually for more than 200 years. The cave was discovered in 1804 by 18-year-old Bernard Weyer, a young trapper and the manager of the local distillery. According to local lore, he was looking for a missing raccoon trap. Another version of the story says that he stumbled upon the entrance while chasing an errant groundhog. When he reported the discovery, the locals started to call the cave Weyer's Cave, which was just descriptive in the sense the cave which Weyer discovered. But the name stuck.

The owner of the land was Matthias Amend, so he was also the owner of the cave. He actually had the idea to open it for public visits, and he developed the cave with trails. Opened to the public only two years after its discovery, it was the first show cave in the U.S.A. He tried to name the show cave Amend's Cave, after himself, but he failed. The locals generally called it Weyer's Cave, and when potential visitors asked for the way to Amend’s Cave, this became a problem. It seems he realized this quite quickly and called it officially Weyer's Cave. Early publications and postcards used this name, but it was also called Grottoes of the Shenandoah. This is the reason why the nearby village was named Grottoes. However, there is also a show cave named ShowcaveShenandoah Caverns, which was opened to the public in 1922. About that time the name Grottoes of the Shenandoah got into disuse.

Many things from the early days are vague, it seems there are inaccurate descriptions and several misunderstandings, and it's quite hard to separate fact from fiction. For example, according to some sources, an unknown person first stumbled upon one of the entrances in the 1780s. Its unknown who this was and which entrance he actually discovered, only rumors remain. Also, some tell the cave was once named Amon’s Cave or Amen’s Cave, after the owner of the cave. This makes no sense, as the name of the first owner was Matthias Amend. And the statement that the Mohler family was the first owner is also wrong. The cave has gone through several owners in 200 years. In 1810, Matthias Amend deeded the property to his daughter Mary and her husband, Henry V. Bingham. Bingham sold the land to John Mohler in 1819, and Jacob Mohler became caretaker, followed by his nephew John Leonard Mohler in 1840. There is even a picture of him in the following book.

An early description of the cave written by David Hunter Strother in his story The Adventures of Porte Crayon and his Cousins. Porte Crayon is actually his pen name, derived from the French porte-crayon or pencil. This story is a sort of autobiographic travel diary from the pre-war Virginia. It is also full of nice drawings (hence his pen name). This story was published in 1857 in Virginia illustrated.

In this time before the war, romanticism created numerous quite bombastic descriptions of the natural beauty of the cave. They were published in books, newspapers and gazettes. This was a continuous free advertisement for the show cave, which was thus quite popular. The number of visitors was restricted by the small number of people who were able to travel at all. At that time, farmers and workers had no chance to travel, there was no domestic mass tourism, only the rich and educated were potential visitors.

During the Civil War (1861–1865), the cave was visited by both Confederate and Union soldiers. As common in these times, the visitors left their names on the walls of the cave. More than 230 signatures on the walls could be identified being from civil war soldiers. A funny story is told about the famous Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson. He once camped nearby and allowed his men to visit the cave. But when asked if he was going to enter the cave, he answered "No, I think not. I fear I shall be underground soon enough, and I have no desire to speed the process!"

From 1889 to 1893, the Grottoes Land Company owned Weyers Cave. When they took over, they obviously renovated and modernized the show cave. As a result, the cave got electric light in 1889, and while this is quite early, numerous caves were electrified five years earlier. It was the fourth cave in the U.S.A. with electric light.

It's a common pattern, a new owner makes some changes after the purchase, typically modernizations and renovations. The Pirkey Brothers bought the property in 1910 and built a lime kiln on the property. Fortunately, the limestone quarrying caused no destruction to the cave. When Holly Stover bought the cave in 1926 she renamed it Grand Caverns. The reasons for this rather drastic step are not given, most likely it was the idea to make it more popular by giving it a bombastic name. Actually, that's a poor idea, as people who know the old name get disoriented. Nevertheless, this time the name change stuck.

The early 1970s were a time with numerous changes for the cave. In 1973, the National Park Service designated the cave a National Natural Landmark in recognition of its shield formations and other features. In 1974, the owner Gladys Kellow gifted the caverns and surrounding acreage to the Upper Valley Regional Park Authority (UVRPA). As a result, it was named Grand Caverns Regional Park. They operated the cave 35 years, until 2009 when the UVRPA dissolved and the Town of Grottoes took possession of the cave.

The cave was surveyed in the 1930s and the length was about 2.6 km. In 2004, the management of Grand Caverns asked the Virginia Region chapter of the National Speleological Society to conduct a re-survey of the cave system. They did so and discovered a 20 cm high passage and more than 3.4 km of unexplored passages. Since then, the official length of the cave is more than 6 kilometers.

The caves of the Shenandoah Valley were formed in mostly horizontal Cambrian limestone layers. This cave is extraordinary, as the limestone is folded at this place. At the place of the cave, the layers are vertical not horizontal, turned on-end by tectonic forces. The results are rather uncommon profiles of the passages.

The cave entrance is located on a hillside in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by a small park and a popular picnic area. The cave is known for several huge chambers. Cathedral Hall is 85 m long and 21 m high, the biggest chamber in this cave and one of the largest rooms of any cavern in the East. The Grand Ballroom has a flat floor with a size of 460 m², which is why it was used for various events.

The cave is famous for its numerous formations, most unusual are the rare Speleothemshields, which are shaped like disks. Grand has an abundance of 250 shields.

The cave has coloured light, but fortunately only at a few spots. The signatures from the Civil War are also shown on the tour, and one of them is pointed out to the visitors, the signature of W. W. Miles. Captain W. W. Miles, of the 14th Pennsylvania Calvary, visited and the cave on 26-SEP-1864. This is another one of the mysteries mentioned above. Actually, the 14th Pennsylvania Calvary had a fight on the 26th and 27th. We have no idea how Miles would have had the time to make a cave tour. Also, according to Wikipedia his name was actually William F. Miles, and as we assume that he should know his second name, we can only guess that the signature is either fake or someone else.