Last updated: February 22, 2021
Dr. John Croghan’s original interest in the cave came about after reading in the journals of the day, accounts of the preservative qualities of the cave, how timbers from the old nitre mine, now more than 30 years old, had not even begun to rot, bodies of dead bats, and even the bodies of desiccated remains of prehistoric explorers had been found in the cave and remained perfectly intact and undecayed. The agent, the doctor surmised must be the cave air. In 1839 Dr. Croghan purchased the cave from Franklin Gorin for $10,000.00, slaves and all.
Dr. Croghan sent his slaves into the cave to construct a series of buildings, two of stone, eight of wood, to function as a sanitorium where his patients could “take the airs.” Dr. Croghan led his patients into the cave to their new residence, where they remained for weeks.
At first the patients claimed to be improving, Dr. Croghan, anticipating success began to draw up plans for a hotel to be built inside the cave. But as time passed it became obvious that the patients’ claims only came from improved moral. The smoke from the cooking and heating fires, the cold clammy cave air began to ravage lungs already weakened by disease.
In all, five patients perished underground, admitting at last that his experiment had failed Dr. Croghan brought the surviving patients back to the surface. Dr. Croghan himself would struggle with tuberculosis until it claimed his life in 1849. His will would grant ownership of the cave to his heirs, nine nieces and nephews and would remain in that family until the 1920’s.
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