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19th Century Accounts of Florida Caverns
by Dale Cox
Copyright 2010 by Dale Cox
All Rights Reserved
The beautiful caves at Florida Caverns
State Park have long attracted attention.
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One of the earliest recorded accounts of the cave was written in 1842 by the editor of the
Tallahassee
Floridian newspaper:

…Its entrance is on the side of a small hill, the mouth sufficiently large to admit two persons at
a time in a standing posture. After furnishing ourselves with lighted candles we commenced
our “exploring expedition.” A few steps led us into a large subterranean hall, of very irregular
and curious structure. Its floor was quite uneven; and its roof thickly studded with glittering
stalactites, forming a splendid arch, apparently supported by finely chiseled pillars of solid
rock. After proceeding some distance, clambering over rocks, jumping ravines, now
ascending land, anon descending, we at length reached a fine, cool spring, which gushed forth
from a cleft in a large rock situated in a remote corner of the first apartment.

Unable to fathom that centuries of dripping water had hollowed out the cavern, the writer
puzzled over what cataclysmic upheaval could have created the cave. He mentioned that
local residents had explored a number of similar caverns in the area, including the Arch Cave
west of the Chipola and the Rock Cave on the plantation of Dr. Samuel Bellamy.
After drinking cool water from the natural pool, the editor and his fellow explorers continued
deeper into the cave:

…We pursued our uneven course into the net apartment, which presented much the
appearance of the first. Having by this time become somewhat fatigued – the atmosphere
being rather oppressive – we retraced our steps, and once more emerged into the light of day
without meeting any accident. We think the position of the cave we explored was about 150
yards in length and ranging, in height, from 6 to 16 feet.

Such descriptions helped stimulate Florida’s first tourism industry, bringing visitors from
across the country to Marianna to explore the caves and experience the beautiful scenery.
Early accounts describe how visitors to Marianna were taken out to the natural bridge in
wagons or carriages and given torchlight tours of the cavern. The process continues to this
day, albeit in more modern form.

The 1842 article drew was widely reprinted in newspapers across the nation and it was not
long before other editors made their way to see the fabulous cavern. The following appeared
in the June 18th issue of the Charleston
Southern Patriot  that same year:

A few weeks since, in company with some eight or ten ladies and gentlemen, we explored
one of the largest and most interesting caves yet discovered in Florida. It is situated some four
miles from Marianna, near the east bank of the Chipola river, and in the vicinity of Dr.
Cheeseborough’s plantation. Its entrance is on the side of a small hill, the mouth sufficiently
large to admit two persons at a time in a standing posture. After furnishing ourselves with
lighted candles we commenced our “exploring expedition.” A few steps led us into a large
subterranean hall, of very irregular and curious structure. Its floor was quite uneven; and its
roof thickly studded with glittering stalactites, forming a splendid arch, apparently supported by
finely chiseled pillars of solid rock. After proceeding some distance, clambering over rocks,
jumping ravines, now ascending land, anon descending, we at length reached a fine, cool
spring, which gushed forth from a cleft in a large rock situated in a remote corner of the first
apartment. After refreshing ourselves at this beautiful fountain, we pursued our uneven course,
into the next apartment, which presented much the appearance of the first. Having by this time
become somewhat fatigued – the atmosphere being rather oppressive – we retraced our
steps, and once more emerged into the light of day without meeting with any accident. We
think the position of the cave we explored was about 150 yards in length and ranging, in
height, from 6 to 16 feet. It is said to contain other apartments.
From the time the first humans entered what
is now Jackson County, Florida, the caves at
today's Florida Caverns State Park have
inspired them with a sense of amazement.

The Natural Bridge Cave (now closed to the
public to preserve its bat colonies) was
initially the best known of the caves. Located
near the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River,
the cave runs from a surface opening deep
into the flood plain bluffs bordering the river.
Early settlers loved to explore it and it was
even the location of a local "Rip Van Winkle"
story.
By the time of the Civil War the caves were so well known in
the South that the Confederate army inspected them as a
possible source of material for making gunpowder. While
they proved too wet for productive mining, they have since
realized their true value to the local economy by attracting
tens of thousands of visitors each year to Jackson County
and are widely acclaimed as one of the most beautiful
attractions in Florida.

Note: This article is excerpted from
The History of Jackson
County, Florida: The Early Years.
The book is available at
Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or from
Amazon.com through the ad at left.