Timeline

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Pre-history

325,000,000 BCE

  • Prehistoric seas of the Mississippian Era deposited layers of limestone in what would become Kentucky.

10,000,000 BCE

  • Rainwater begins dissolving the limestone to form the first passages of Mammoth Cave.

1,000,000 BCE

  • The large passages that are the namesake of "mammoth" cave begin to form.

5,000-2,000 BCE

 

1770’s

1775

1776

1780’s

1789

1790’s

1790

  • John Houchin moves from Virginia and settles on the Green River near the cave. Legend suggests this early settler became the first European to find the cave.

1792

  • Kentucky Statehood.
  • Many Kentucky settlers manufacture their own gunpowder from “nitre” found in cave dirt.

1796

1798

  • Valentine Simons buys 200 acres of land containing two saltpeter caves.

1799

  • Simons sells the 200 acres and two caves to John Flatt. The larger cave became known as Flatt’s Cave. Flatt sells the property to John McLean and his two brothers.
 

1800’s

1803

1808

  • McLean brothers sell Flatt’s Cave to Fleming Gatewood and Charles Wilkins.

1810’s

1810

  • First published use of name “Mammoth Cave”, in a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper.
  • Seven hoppers constructed at Booth’s Amphitheater for making saltpeter.

1811

  • First shock waves of the great New Madrid earthquake are felt. The cave is undamaged.

1812

  • Declaration of War with England, starting what would later be known as the War of 1812.

  • Gatewood sells his interest in Mammoth Cave to Hyman Gratz of Philadelphia.

  • Louisiana Statehood.

1813

1813 - 1814

  • Enslaved men mine vast amounts of saltpeter at Mammoth Cave and send it to gunpowder factories in the east to supply American military war efforts, including fighting the British during the War of 1812.

1815

  • Saltpeter operation ceases. Nahum Ward makes a trip into Mammoth Cave, draws a new cave map, and writes long description of the cave and mummy. His writings will make Mammoth Cave famous.

1816

  • First known formal tour of Mammoth Cave.

1817

1818

1819

1820’s

1820

1830’s

1830

  • Bell’s Tavern is built.

1834

  • Michigan Statehood.

  • George S. Gatewood (Manager of Mammoth Cave), allows Jesse Sutton to hold a religious services in the cave at a site later known as Methodist Church.

1835

  • Edmund F. Lee makes an instrument survey and map showing eight miles of Mammoth Cave and publishes his guidebook Notes on Mammoth Cave.

1837

  • The top entry of the Corkscrew is discovered.

1838

  • Wandering Willie walks from Cincinnati to Mammoth Cave, and spends a night in the cave.

  • Charles F. Harvey is lost in the cave for 39 hours.
  • Gorin’s Dome discovered.
  • Stephen Bishop crosses Bottomless Pit.

  • Franklin Gorin and A.A. Harvey purchase Mammoth Cave and 1,600 acres from Hyman and Simon Gratz. Gorin enlarges and improves the Mammoth Cave Inn, and hires Archibald Miller, Jr. as manager.

  • Stephen Bishop, an enslaved man who will later be known as “the Sable Genius”, becomes a cave guide.

1839

  • Franklin Gorin sells cave and 1,610 acres to Dr. John Croghan.

1840’s

1840

1841

1842

  • Stephen Bishop prepares a new map of cave.

  • In May, tuberculosis patient Dr. William J. Mitchell enters Mammoth Cave, the first of ten. Some die in the cave, and all ultimately perish. Last patient leaves the cave in March 1843; the experiment shows that cave air does not cure tuberculosis.

  • First description of blind fish in River Styx appears in a scholarly article in Philadelphia.

1843

  • Croghan enlarges and improves Mammoth Cave Hotel.

1844

  • Alexander C. Bullitt visits Mammoth Cave and is given credit for writing Rambles in the Mammoth Cave.

1845

  • Renowned Norwegian violinist Ole Bull visits Mammoth Cave, and plays his violin in a cave chamber now known as Ole Bull’s Concert Hall.

1846

1848

1849

  • Dr. Croghan dies. Mammoth Cave is placed in a Trust, known as the Mammoth Cave Estate, and this Trust owns and manages the cave until the 1920s.

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1850’s

1850

  • California Statehood.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson visits Mammoth Cave in June and later writes an essay titled “Illusions” after seeing the "night sky" in Star Chamber.

1851

  • Celebrated opera diva Jenny Lind visits the cave in April. Contrary to reports, she does not sing in the cave.

1856

1857

1858

  • Minnesota Statehood.
  • William Courtland Prentice first descends The Mælstrom.

1859

  • Oregon Statehood.
  • Charles Darwin publishes Origin of Species. His theory of evolution continues inform many studies of creatures uniquely adapted to cave life.

1860's

1861

  • American Civil War begins.
  • August 21 – Civil War skirmish ½ mile from the Historic Entrance, between the Mammoth Cave Home Guard and rebel partisans.

1863

1864

1866

  • First photographs taken in Mammoth Cave by Charles Waldack.

1867

1868

  • Frank DeMonbrun and Charles and Abe Merideth discover Mystic River.

1870’s

1870

  • Guide William Garvin discovers the Corkscrew from below.
  • Ralph Seymour Thompson publishes The Sucker’s Visit to the Mammoth Cave.

1872

1875

  • Bill Cutliff and Tom Lee discover the “Little Alice” mummy in Salts Cave. The mummy is displayed in Long Cave, and then in Mammoth Cave until the 1950s, where itis called the “Mammoth Cave Mummy”, and later, “Little Al”.

1876

  • Colorado Statehood.
  • Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro visits the cave in May.
  • Dr. Horace Carter Hovey makes the first of many visits to the cave. He publishes books and articles about the cave from 1878 through 1912.
  • Actor Edwin Booth visits the cave and recites a soliloquy from Hamlet at Booth’s Amphitheater.

1879

  • Thomas Edison invents the light bulb, but it will not dispel the dark in Mammoth Cave until 38 years later.

1880’s

1880

  • The Jesse James Gang robs the Mammoth Cave stagecoach on September 3.

1881

  • Mushroom growing operation begins between Bunker Hill and Olive’s Bower.

1883

  • A Christmas Tree is placed in the cave by holiday revelers.

1886

1889

1890’s

1890

1891

  • Francis Benjamin Johnston visits Mammoth Cave and takes flash pictures used in an article for Demorest’s Family Magazine.

1895

  • Lute and Henry Lee discover Colossal Cave. They connect Colossal to Bedquilt cave the next year.

1896

1897

  • Horace Carter Hovey and Richard Ellsworth Call publish their first edition of The Mammoth Cave of Kentucky.

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1900’s

1900

  • Curtis G. Lloyd of Cincinnati is lost in the Corkscrew for 12 tours. Guides Bob McDaniel and John Nelson find him. An inscription Lloyd left on the cave wall reads: “It is Hell to be Lost.”

1903

  • Marty Charlet draws a map showing Unknown Cave in Flint Ridge.

1904

  • The first automobile arrives at Mammoth Cave, from Indianapolis.

1906

  • Lock and Dam No. 6 opens for river traffic, raising the water level in Gorin’s Dome, cutting off access to Stevenson River. The Chaperon is the first steamboat to make the run from Evansville to Mammoth Cave.

1907

  • Oklahoma Statehood.
  • Benjamin. F. Einbigler, Edward Hawkins, and William Bransford discover Cathedral Domes.

1908

  • German engineer Max Kämper creates a map of Mammoth Cave for the Mammoth Cave Estate. He and Guide Ed Bishop discover Violet City, Elizabeth's Dome, Gerta’s Grotto, Ultima Thule, Mt. McKinley, Kentucky Avenue, Bismarck Dome, and many other places.

1910’s

1912

1916

  • George D. Morrison opens the “Cox Entrance” in the hope of conducting tours in Mammoth Cave. The L&N Railroad enjoins him from using the entrance.
  • Great Onyx Cave is discovered by Edmund Turner and L.P. Edwards.
  • December 9 – The old Mammoth Cave Hotel destroyed by fire.
  • Passage of the Organic Act, creating the National Park Service.

1917

  • First electric lights in Mammoth Cave installed in Cleaveland Avenue. Floyd Collins discovers the Great Crystal Cave.
  • World War I begins.

1920’s

1921

  • George Morrison opens the “New Entrance to Mammoth Cave” using 20 sticks of dynamite and discovers many passages between Grand Central Station and Mary’s Vineyard. Morrison forms the Mammoth Cave Development Company.

1922

  • Floyd Collins discovers a mile-long passage in Crystal Cave, later named Floyd’s Lost Passage.

1923

  • March 12 – Frozen Niagara discovered by Roy Jaggers, Earl Lee and L.L. Lee.

  • The New Entrance Hotel is completed.

1924

  • Frozen Niagara Entrance is opened.
  • The Mammoth Cave National Park Association is formed and takes a leadership role over the next 17 years in making the cave part of a national park.

1925

  • Floyd Collins becomes trapped in Sand Cave. Rescuers extricate him on February 16, but he had died perhaps three days earlier.

  • Delco lighting system provides the first electric lights for the Frozen Niagara section.

1926

  • Congress passes an Act to accept lands donated to the government to form a national park at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

1929

  • M. M. Logan and his wife convey 8,000 acres of the Mammoth Cave Estate to the Mammoth Cave National Park Association.

  • Mammoth Cave Railroad engine Hercules (No. 3) is unable to make the last run on the line. A rail bus runs mail service until the company dissolves in 1931.

1930’s

1930

  • George Morrison opens Cathedral Domes Entrance.

  • The remainder of the Mammoth Cave Estate is condemned and purchased.

1931

  • The Kentucky National Park Commission purchases George Morrison’s New Entrance land holdings.

  • Carmichael and Violet City Entrances opened.

1933

  • Mammoth Cave National Park Association and the Kentucky National Park Commission create a Joint Operating Committee.

  • The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) begins major projects at Mammoth Cave through 1942.

1935

  • Upside-Down Well is drilled.

  • First All Day Tour from Natural Entrance to Frozen Niagara Entrance. Snowball Dining Room opens for these tours.

  • Guides Grover Campbell and Lyman Cutliff discover the "Lost John" mummy.

1937

  • High water in River Hall recorded at 57 feet.

1938

  • University of Chicago Psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Kleitman and post-graduate student Bruce Richardson live in Mammoth Cave for 32 days to study circadian rhythms.

  • Guides Leo Hunt, Carl Hanson, Pete Hanson, and Claude Hunt find New Discovery.

  • First radio broadcast from inside the Cave is made at Echo River by Mutual Broadcasting System affiliate WGRC.

1939

1940’s

1941

  • Attack of Pearl Harbor.
  • July 1 – Mammoth Cave National Park established with 45,310 acres.

1946

  • September 18 – Mammoth Cave National Park is dedicated.

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1950’s

1950

1953

  • The tower at Mammoth Dome is completed.

1955

  • September – Unknown Cave connected to Crystal Cave by Bill Austin and Jack Lehrberger.
  • Vietnam War begins.

1956

  • Austin Entrance opened on Flint Ridge.

1957

  • Elevator entrance installed.

1959

1960’s

1960

  • Colossal Cave connected with Salts Cave.

1961

  • Great Onyx Cave and Collins Crystal Cave properties become part of the National Park.

1966

  • August – Guides Shorty Coats and Lewis Cutliff conduct the only All Day Tour to use electric lights from River Hall to the Snowball Room.

1968

  • Violet City Lantern Tour begins.

1970’s

1972

1975

  • Great Onyx Tour begins.

1978

  • High water in River Hall recorded at 52 feet.

1979

  • August 11 – Mammoth Cave system joined to Joppa Ridge by Roger and Tom Brucker, Tom Gracanin, Lynn Weller and John Wilcox. Total cave system surveyed to 197 miles.

1980’s

1981

1983

  • Connection made to Toohey Ridge by a ten-member team. Mammoth Cave system surveyed to 294 miles.

1984

  • High water in River Hall recorded at 54 feet.

1987

  • A 1,200-pound rock falls in Audubon Avenue, following a 3.2 earthquake near Erlanger, Kentucky.

1989

  • March 24 – Floyd Collins reinterred in the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church Cemetery.

1990’s

1990

  • Gulf War begins.
  • Park accepted by UNESCO as a the core of an International Biosphere Reserve.
  • Torch-throwing discontinued by year’s end. Guide James Minyard throws the last torch.

1991

  • Kämper Avenue found by Greg Sholly, Bob Osborne and Julie Sotsky.

1992

  • Guides Tres Seymour and Kennetha Sanders conduct the last Echo River Tour.

1994

  • January 20 – Rockfall in the Rotunda caused by severe cold weather estimated at 32 tons. Another rockfall is discovered at Lake Lethe in the spring.

1996

  • New Bat Gates and airlock doors installed at Historic, New, Frozen Niagara, and Carmichael Entrances.
  • Audubon Avenue designated as bat sanctuary during the hibernation season.

1997

  • A paved walkway and boardwalk is constructed from the Historic Entrance to the Methodist Church.
  • High water in River Hall recorded at 49 feet.

1998

  • Robin's Run, a large passage with undisturbed prehistoric artifacts, is found in the Historic Section of the cave by Rick Olson and Dick Market. The next day Olson and Rickard Toomey discover a similar passage they name Watson Trace.

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2000’s

2001

2006

  • Miss Green River II takes its last cruise.
  • New cave electrical system includes 1,200 light fixtures, 240,000 feet of wiring and 47 phones over six miles of cave passages.

2009

  • Rick Olson, Mickey Cundari and Dave Stahl discover River Acheron in September.
  • Procedures are begun to attempt to contain the spread of White-nose Syndrome.

2010’s

2010

  • Cave Research Foundation team discovers Colleen's Irish Croft in the Mammoth Dome area.
  • High water in River Hall recorded at 49 feet.

2013

  • February 15 – Mammoth Cave is officially mapped at 400 miles long.
  • White-nose Syndrome is detected in bats in Mammoth Cave.

2016

  • Centennial of the founding of the NPS.
  • 75th Anniversary of the establishment of Mammoth Cave National Park.
  • Bicentennial of guided tours in the Monarch of Caves.

2017

  • Lock and Dam No. 6 is removed from the Green River after a uncontrolled breach in November 2016.

2020’s

2020

  • One of the most diverse Mississippian shark faunas was identified in Mammoth Cave. The fossil chondrichthyan assemblage will be used as a benchmark site to compare with other fossil chondrichthyans from around the world.

  • The COVID-19 global pandemic disrupts cave tour operations.

2021

  • Mammoth Cave is mapped at 420 miles long.

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Last updated: September 12, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 7
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007

Phone:

(270) 758-2180

Contact Us