Bowling Green, Kentucky's Lost River Cave is a fascinating tourist attraction - but it has also been a nightclub, a Civil War camp, saw mill, and even a refuse dump!
The limestone walls and flowing river of Lost River Cave wind beneath Bowling Green, Kentucky for approximately 7 miles, allowing for tours and even boat rides and kayaking on its subterranean waters - but the cavern had a long and varied history before becoming a tourist destination.
Used by aboriginal Americans as a shelter and water source, the modern life of Lost River Cave began when the site was converted into the first of numerous saw mills. What a great idea: the water powers your mill and whisks away the sawdust and scraps to who knows where. Actually, this was how everyone found out that Jennings Creek, located on the other side of Bowling Green, was connected to Lost River Cave: after the mill began operating, sawdust started appearing on the creek's surface - seemingly from out of nowhere. Aha!
During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union troops camped out in the area at different times. They used the river as a source of water and the cave for a shelter and training ground. Many of the nearly 40,000 Union soldiers who camped here between 1862 and 1865, scrawled their names, ranks, and companies on the cave's limestone walls.
Jesse James is reputed to have holed-up in Lost River Cave during the 1860's as well. While there is a possibility he may have, the evidence points towards him hiding out a friend's house in Bowling Green, instead. Sorry, Lost River Cave: you can't be everything.
During the 1930's, Lost River Cave was turned into ... a nightclub! Yes, that's right: a nightclub - and a pretty famous one, too. It could accommodate several hundred people at once, as well as a stage, bar, and dance floor. How cool is that? Very cool, actually - that was part of the attraction! You have to remember that this was before air conditioning. Lost River Cave offered naturally cooler temperatures for those long hot, summer nights. When you think about it, it's kind of odd there weren't more cavern nightclubs around.
Eventually air conditioning was invented and, by the 1950's, the novelty of hanging out in a cave while dressed to the nines wore off. Lost River Cave stopped being a hotspot ... and much of anything except for an exceedingly convenient, if terribly shortsighted, place to dump your garbage.
What could have been a very sad closing chapter for Lost River Cave was turned around with the formation of the Friends of Lost River. This non-profit group set out to clean up the cave and open it for public tours, which they quite successfully did. They even built a dam to raise the water level of the river some, allowing Lost River Cave to be one of the only caverns in the US that you can tour by boat!
Other activities at Lost River Cave now include, underground kayak tours, exploring the upper passageway on the Discovery Cave Crawl, walking the nature trails around some of Lost River Cave's blue holes, geocaching, a seasonal butterfly habitat, and much more! What are you waiting for?