Collins' 1878 Historical Sketches Of Kentucky
History of Kentucky

Rockcastle County

Saltpeter Caves.- Among the Rockcastle hills are numerous saltpeter caves, at which large quantities of saltpeter were manufactured during the war of 1812. One of these, called the "Big Cave" or the "Great Saltpeter Cave," 4 miles N. of Pine Hill station on the railroad, and 8 miles N. E. of Mount Vernon, extends entirely through a spur of the mountain or "Big Hill," over half a mile. It was discovered by John Baker, who, in company with his wife, commenced exploring it with a torchlight. At the distance of about 300 yards; their light went out, and they were formed to crawl about, in perfect darkness, for 40 hours, before they found the place at which they entered. The arch is from 10 to 20 feet high. Large rooms branch off several hundred yards long, and the end of one has not been reached. Some of the rooms cover an area of several acres. The saltpeter manufactured here, before and during the war of 1812, gave employment to 60 or 70 laborers. There is a fine, bold running stream of water in the cave, and works were constructed inside, for the manufacture of saltpeter by torchlight. Carts and wagons passed through, from one side of the mountain to the other, without difficulty. The way is so level and straight, that oxen were soon taught to pass through in perfect darkness, without a driver. Visitors through it find a succession of grand and startling views. Dr. Graham calls it a twin to the Mammoth Lace in Edmondson county, only less extensive. He writes to the author that in some of these caves he has traveled for three miles, without finding an end. The formations being limestone, there is but little crumbling or giving way.

Main Library Page