Cave Hotel Destroyed
Early Morning Fire In 1916
Original Hote Registers From 1853 To 1897
Mysteriously Saved From The 1916 Fire
By Bob Thompson
has been one of the outstanding scenic attractions of America
since it was first shown commercially in 1816. Millions of visitors
from all over the world have viewed the impressive natural features
of the cave. Mammoth Cave was Kentucky's first tourist attraction
and the second oldest in the United States, preceded only by
The journey to the cave was extremely difficult, until the completion
of the L&N Railroad between Louisville and Nashville in 1859.
The L&N Railroad brought visitors to Cave City or Glasgow
Junction (now Park City), and from there by stagecoach to the
cave. The earliest stagecoach line to Mammoth Cave was from Glasgow
Junction (Bell's Tavern). A stage line from Cave City to Mammoth
Cave was operated by a man by the name of Andy McCoy. He operated
two coaches named the Florida and the John E. Bell.
of Mammoth Cave were guests at old Mammoth Cave Hotel on July
21, 1915. At this time the hote was considered one of finest
hotels in thestate. the hotel originally started out as log cabins.
(Photo courtesy of the author).
In an effort to get visitors
to the cave, a more favorable and rapid means of transportation
was needed. The L&N Railroad built a branch line of 8.7 miles
from Glasgow Junction to Mammoth Cave and was opened on November
17, 1886. The Mammoth Cave Railroad purchased four secondhand
dummy-type Baldwin locomotives for use on its railroad line.
The Hercules (#3) claimed the greatest fame among the four locomotives.
With the arrival of the first automobile on October 7, 1904,
the last steam driven locomotive went over the Mammoth Cave Railroad
in the 1920s and was replaced by a railbus until September 1,
1931, when service was discontinued.
The building of locks and dams on the Green River around 1906,
brought steamboats and towboats from Bowling Green and Evansville
to the cave. The Evansville & Bowling Green Packet Company
had an "All River Excursion Route to Mammoth Cave"
during the summer months on the steamboat Chaperon. The Myers
Packet Co. also had a trip to the cave on the boat Leona.
Upon arriving at the cave, guests stayed at the Mammoth Cave
Hotel, which was considered, at the time, one of the finest hotels
in the state. The old hotel originally started as log cabins
that were built and used by saltpeter miners around 1812. The
cabins formed the core of the building. Then the cabins were
connected and weather-boarded under the ownership of Franklin
Gorin (1837-1839). Under the ownership of John Croghan (1839-1849),
a larger two-story building was built, including a first floor
dining room and a second floor ballroom. All the buildings were
Mammoth Cave has had its share of hotel managers during its operation.
After owner John Croghan died in 1849, he requested, in his will,
to rent out the lands and buildings (except the cave) for terms
of five years. Some of the hotel lessees include: William S.
Miller, Sr., 1850-1856 and 1874-1878); Larkin J. Procter, 1856-1861
and 1866-1871; E. K. Owsley, 1861-1866; David L. Graves, 1871-1874;
Francis Klett, 1878-1882; William Charley Comstock, 1882-1887;
Henry C. Ganter, 1887-1902; and Willis W. Renshaw, 1902-1911.
On December 9, 1916, the old Mammoth Cave Hotel was destroyed
by fire. According to a newspaper article, all of the old hotel
registers were destroyed in the fire.
Mammoth Cave. From 1886 to 1929 a series of small trains called
Hercules transported visitors from Glasgow Junction (now City
Park) to Mammoth Cave. With the invention of the automobile and
improved roads, Hercules became a memory of the past. (Photo
courtesy of the author.)
The headline and story from The Louisville Times newspaper from
Saturday, December 9, 1916, reads, "Mammoth Cave Hotel Destroyed
By Fire, Historic Structure Caught Fire From an Unknown Source
Early Saturday Morning. The original Mammoth Cave Hotel, a part
of which was built in 1811, was entirely destroyed by fire, of
unknown origin, which started at three o'clock this morning,
consuming the hotel in two hours. There were no injuries sustained
by the guests or employees, but many of the employees of the
hotel lost all their personal belongings. All the registers of
the hotel and cave, which contained perhaps the greatest collection
in existence of the autograph signatures of famous men and women
of this country and other parts of the world, were destroyed.
The registers of the Mammoth Cave and the Mammoth Cave Hotel,
which in part were more than a century old, contained the names
of such famous personages as the late King Edward of England,
Jenny Lind, Edwin Booth, the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, and
Don Pedro of Brazil."
Twelve of the "destroyed" Mammoth Cave Hotel registers
have materialized and exist today in collections at the Kentucky
Library, Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, Kentucky,
and at Mammoth Cave National Park. These original hotel registers
give us a glimpse into the day-by-day operations at Mammoth Cave
over 100 years ago.
Two original hotel registers were donated to the Kentucky Library
from an unknown source and at an unknown date. The earliest register
dates from July 21, 1858, to December 22, 1860. The second register
dates from March 15, 1862, to September 4, 1866.
Mammoth Cave National Park has 10 original hotel registers that
date from 1883 to 1897. They were donated to the park by Ellis
Jones of Cave City, Kentucky, in 1982. The registers and the
years they cover are as follows: 1883-1887, compilation of all
guests from this time period; August 19, 1883, to June 25, 1884;
February 26, 1885, to August 6,1885; August 7, 1886, to December
31, 1886; January 1, 1888, to July 31, 1888; January 1, 1890
to August 31, 1890; July 11, 1891 to August 31, 1891; September
1, 1891 to February 19, 1892; and August 1, 1895, to December
1896 and 1897.
In August of 2002, I examined the two original Mammoth Cave Hotel
registers in the Kentucky Library. They are in good condition,
considering their age. They were printed by John P. Morton &
Company, printers and binders, of Louisville, Kentucky. Some
of the earliest books on Mammoth Cave were printed by Morton
(with Griswold), including Rambles in the Mammoth Cave by Alexander
Clark Bullitt in 1845 and The Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, An Illustrated
Manuai by Horace Carter Hovey and Richard Ellsworth Call in 1897;
with numerous reprints until 1912. Howard Clifton Griswold (1866-1941)
headed the John P. Morton Company at the time Hovey and Call
Manuai was published. There was also one piece of hotel stationary
mixed between the pages of one of the registers that was also
printed by Morton & Company.
The manager of the Mammoth Cave Hotel was written in the top
header of the two registers. From the register of 1858-1860 was
written, "Cave House, L. J. Procter, Proprietor." From
the register of 1862-1866 was written, "E. K. Owsley."
At the top of both hotel registers in a zebra wood font are the
words, "Travelers' Register." Subtitles going across
the register page from left to right are: "Arrival, Names,
Residence, Destination, Room, and Remarks." The arrival
dates of all visitors were put in the registers. There were days
when the hotel did not receive any visitors, especially during
the colder months of the year. For example, on April 13, 1862,
was written "no arrivals on this day." Other days the
hotel had maybe one or two visitors. Summer visitation at the
cave was good, but there were also slow days for the usually
busy months of June, July, and August. One of the best days found
in the registers was on July 3, 1865, when the hotel received
Each of the guests signed the register and put in a place of
residence, but rarely a destination. For most guests at this
time, Mammoth Cave was the main destination for them. Because
the hotel received few guests during this time, room numbers
were rarely put in the registers, except for days when visitation
was high. The remarks column of the 1858-1860 register was left
mostly blank, whereas the 1862-1866 register had notes written
in the column. The remark column was mostly used to state what
trip the visitor took in the cave. At the time, there were only
two different trips into the cave, the short route (about four
hours) and the long route (about 10 hours). Each of the two trips
took place in different parts of the cave. Sometimes when visitation
was slow, the current weather would be placed in the column.
For example, Saturday April 22, 1862, "cloudy and heavy
rain." Other times, cave admissions ($2.00) were placed
in the column. Other interesting notes in the 1862-1866 register
include: "E. K. Owsley left for Bowling Green," and
"Sent Mat (Bransford, cave guide) to Cave City today."
Occasionally, poems were written by guests in the registers to
express their experiences at the cave.
The two Mammoth Cave Registers at the Kentucky Library clearly
show the diversity of visitors to the cave. There were many visitors
from around Kentucky, as well as other states and Europe. Many
of the signatures in the registers were from Civil War soldiers.
Surprisingly, some visitors stayed at the hotel, but did not
visit the cave. The $2 admission fee was considered a large sum
of money at that time.
Some of the more prominent guests in the two Mammoth Cave Registers
are signatures of photographers Adin F. Styles (written in the
register as A. F. Styles) of Burlington, Vermont; Charles Waldack
of Cincinnati, Ohio; and his assis-tants John R. Procter of Maysville,
Kentucky; and John H. O'Shaughnessy of Newport, Kentucky; and
Mandeville Thum (and family) of Louisville, Kentucky.
Photographer Adin F. Styles registered at the hotel on September
25, 1865. He stayed in room 23 of the Mammoth Cave Hotel and
took the long route trip in the cave. During his visit, Styles
photographed cave guides Mat and Nick Bransford together in front
of the entrance to Mammoth Cave.
Photographer Charles Waldack registered at the hotel on June
14, 1866, and July 26, 1866. During his visit, Waldack took the
first interior photographs of the cave. They were the first successful
photographs taken underground in any cave and were a vital key
in showing Mammoth Cave to the world. Waldack's assistant, John
R. Procter, also registered on June 14, 1866 (his name came just
before Waldack's). Waldack's other assistant, John O'Shaughnessy
registered at the hotel on June 16, 1866, and July 13, 1866.
John R. Procter was the nephew of Mammoth Cave Hotel manager,
Larkin J. Procter, and was later, a geologist for the state of
Kentucky. Photographer Mandeville Thum and Family registered
at the hotel on July 26, 1860. It is not clear if he took photographs
of the cave during his visit. All of Thum's photographs of the
cave were copyrighted on November 22, 1876. Thum may have visited
the cave with his family for the first time in 1860 and then
returned later in 1876 to take photographs.
Prominent writers listed in the Mammoth Cave Hotel register included
Professor Charles W. Wright of Louisville, Kentucky. He visited
the cave many times when writing his early guidebooks to the
cave, The Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, 1858, and A Guide Manual to
the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, 1860. Wright registered at the
hotel on August 19, 1858; December 4, 1859; June 6, 1866; and
June 14, 1866 (the same day as Charles Waldack). During this
time, Wright also was known for his cave discoveries in Mammoth
Cave, as well as a new cave near Mammoth called Richardson Cave
(discovered on July 15, 1859, and now called Diamond Caverns).
Other prominent names in the two registers include: W. F. Bell
and John Bell, August 15, 1858, of Three Forks, Kentucky (Bell's
Tavern); and Courtland Prentice, August 15 and 22, 1858, son
of George D. Prentice, editor of The Louisville Courier Journal.
Prentice descended the Maelstrom, a deep pit in Mammoth Cave.
Others names are George Procter, July 6, 1859, owner of Bell's
Tavern and Diamond Caverns, and brother of Mammoth Cave manager,
Larkin J. Procter; and T. (Thomas?) L. Bransford, July 27 and
30, 1860, of Nashville, Tennessee, possibly the owner of slave
cave guides Mat and Nick Bransford, before they were sold to
one-time owner of Mammoth Cave, Franklin Gorin, in 1838.
I also found the signature of Abraham Lincoln in one of the hotel
registers. It read, "Abraham Lincoln, President of the U.
States, 1863." In doing some research on Lincoln, I found
his signature to be the most frequently forged autograph in America.
Lincoln wrote with a strong and bold hand and signed his letters
"A. Lincoln" and official documents as "Abraham
Lincoln." In authentic Lincoln letters, the handwriting
is quite illegible. If the writing is easy to read, it is a giveaway
that it is not genuine. Is the signature in the old register
genuine? You be the judge.
There are gaps between the Mammoth Cave National Park's 10 existing
hotel registers from 1883 to 1897. There were no registers found
for the years 1887, 1889, 1893, and 1894. The size of each hotel
register varies. Some were large volumes, whereas others were
very small. The 10 registers were either printed by John P. Morton
or The Courier Journal. Register headings include: Name, Address,
Party, Cave fees (names of routes listed and cost), Board and
Room, Room, Breakfast, Dinner, Supper, Wines and Bar, Wash Bill,
Stable, Bill, Fire, Costumes, Guide Books, Date departed, and
In Margaret Bridwell's book, The Story of Mammoth Cave National
Park, 1952, she mentions in one of the hotel registers at Mammoth
Cave under date of Monday, November 8, 1886, there is the name
of the first passenger to ride on the Mammoth Cave Railroad,
"November 8, Monday, W. F. Richardson, USA, 1st Passenger
on Mammoth Cave Railroad (Ticket No. 1350) $3.00."
The only indication of how maybe the hotel register(s) were saved
from the hotel fire of 1916 comes from the following newspaper.
According to a letter in The Courier-Journal, on April 19, 1936,
William P. Kendrick and some friends were at the old hotel the
night of the fire. Here is his story, "About one a.m. we
were awakened by a man shouting and running up and down the porches
and knocking upon all the doors. We naturally thought that he
was drunk and was playing a joke on us, but opening our eyes
we found that the entire dining hall was ablaze, it being only
two or three rooms away from ours. The rest of us, completely
dressed, rushed out to see what we could save. The above-mentioned
pieces of furniture, along with several other articles, one of
which was the register, were carried out by Clem D. Johnston
and myself. We later heard that the late King George himself
signed this register along with many other notables."
In 1919, a new 22-room hotel was built at Mammoth Cave. The major
portion of the new hotel was built in 1925, with an addition
Special thanks to Pat Hodges, Coordinator, Manuscripts, Department
of Library Special Collections, Kentucky Building, WKU Bowling
Green, Kentucky; Terry Langford, Consultant Curator, Mammoth
Cave National Park; and to my wife, Judi.
7351 Cayman Way, Apt. 6, Maineville, OH 45039-9472.