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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Tavern Cave

Location: Franklin County, along the track of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad about a mile from the nearest secondary road, some 2 miles northeast of St. Albans.

On May 23, 1804, or 2 days after leaving St. Charles on their westward trek, Clark and probably some other members of the expedition visited this large cave, located on the south bank of the Missouri at the base of a huge sandstone bluff called Tavern Rock. On the homeward trip, the explorers passed it on September 21, 1806.

Although they were the first men known to describe it, since long before their time, perhaps as early as the late 1770's, it had been a well-known landmark and had been utilized by French and Spanish trappers and traders as a shelter. Because they called it the "Taverne" (cafe or restaurant), some form of a rest stop or inn may have existed there to provide for the comforts of river travelers.

Tavern Cave
Tavern Cave was well known to the Indians, French and Spanish trappers and traders before Lewis and Clark visited. (National Register collection (H. Roger Grant, State Historical Survey, Missouri State Park Board).)

American fur traders visited the cave until the 1840's, as did also such notable Missouri River voyagers as John Bradbury (1809), Henry M. Brackenridge (1811), Surgeon John Gale (1818), and Prince Maximilian of Wied (1832). From the earliest times, many visitors etched into the sandstone walls their names, dates, and other still-visible inscriptions. None of them, however, can be associated with any member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The cave is now located about 250 feet from the Missouri, whereas at the beginning of the 19th century it was right at its edge. Today is is also about 20 feet less wide than in the early days because of the accumulation of land fill at the north and south ends. This fill apparently consists of debris from the present railroad bed, which is located about 60 feet above the level of the cave. An intermittent stream flows from its east wall. At the mouth of the cave is a huge mound. This likely resulted from repeated floodings of the Missouri and the dumping of refuse from the railroad bed.

The area directly surrounding the cave's entrance is covered with brush and trees. Beyond to the river is swampland, apparently created by periodic river floodings and poor drainage. Tavern Rock once rose to a height of 300 feet, but blasting in modern times to form the railroad bed has transformed the bluff's configuration. The Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad owns the cave site.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004