Although the Mammoth Cave Hotel was a fine hostelry, it was only one of several well-known stopovers along the line in Kentucky. Dickey’s Tavern at Pruitt’s Knob, Elizabethtown’s Eagle House, Bardstown’s Stone Inn, and Kerr’s Inn in Munfordville, among others, offered rich hospitality for the weary traveler.
Typical tavern prices around 1820:
One of the most famous among Kentucky inns was Bell’s Tavern, near the cave. The innkeeper, William Bell, called "The Napoleon of Tavern Keepers," is reported by Franklin Gorin in 1876, in The Times of Long Ago, to have run
Such accommodations were the natural meeting place for politicians and celebrities, for the innkeeper himself became a figure of prominence. Nathaniel Willis wrote in an 1852 letter about his experience of Mammoth Cave that:
No doubt the ministrations of such a person went far to ease travelers just arrived from rough stage travel. But the travel was made easier by the arrival, by 1850, of the railroad. Trains from Louisville to Nashville replaced the principal stage lines, and by the end of the 19th Century, travelers could ride the rails all the way from the main line, at Bell’s Tavern in Glasgow Junction, to the Mammoth Cave Hotel. The stagecoach became a thing of history.
The Mammoth Cave Hotel itself passed into history in 1919, when the structure, in part over 100 years old, burned to the ground in less than an hour. With it went the grand ballroom, the verandahs, the covered portico, the dining room. The rustic elegance of orchestras and dances and conversations around log fires faded, but not without leaving this impression on a visitor in 1870:
The visitor is surprised to find in this uncultivated backwoods such a large and cheerful looking dwelling on so handsome a lawn ... here are to be found all the advantages of a first class watering place hotel with the addition of fine country scenery and daily opportunities of observing Nature’s great subterranean wonder.
Last updated: May 23, 2018