Friday, April 22, 2016

The Discovery & Opening of Shenandoah Caverns

Any visitor to Shenandoah Caverns knows about the discovery of the cave by the two young Neff brothers in 1884. You probably shook your head in disbelief when you looked at the huge boulders and steep shaft of the natural opening they descended. But did you know about the railroad, the hotel, and why the caverns was first opened to the public? Read on to learn more. 
Shenandoah Caverns was discovered in 1884 during the building of the Southern Railway through the Shenandoah Valley. Many local farmers, including Abraham Neff, donated stone from their property to the building of the railroad. The Neff family allowed the railroad to quarry rock on their property, adjacent to where the railroad was built. Abraham's two sons were playing in quarry when they discovered cool air rising from a hole in the ground. Of course, boys being boys, they were curious. They retrieved ropes and candles and scrambled down the 275 foot twisting and winding shaft to make their way into the caverns.

The railway was instrumental to the opening of Shenandoah Caverns. A local businessman in Woodstock, Hunter Chapman, was a stockholder in the B&O railroad. When he heard about the railroad going through, and the discovery of the caverns, he saw an opportunity to open an attraction on the railway. He approached Abraham Neff and asked him to sell his property, which he did. In 1922 Chapman opened Shenandoah Caverns, with a full service hotel. The passenger train ran brought tourists from DC and northern Virginia to Shenandoah Caverns until after WWII. 

The hotel rooms were on the third floor, while the second floor held a large reception room. The hotel operated until 1957, when it burned in a large fire. In the 1990s the second floor was renovated. It now hosts Main Street of Yesteryear, a display of antique department store windows you can enjoy after your cavern's tour.