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John Guilday Caves Nature Preserve

KEY STATS

LOCATION
Pendleton County, West Virginia
YEAR ACQUIRED
1983
LENGTH
4.7 miles, 2.4 miles and 3 miles

In 1983, the NSS completed the purchase of 42 acres of forested land at Trout Rocks near Franklin, West Virginia. This property contains the entrances to three well-known, popular caves: Trout, New Trout, and Hamilton. Each cave is more than three miles long and has been the site of significant paleontological excavations. The property has been designated the John Guilday Caves Nature Preserve in honor of one of the foremost paleontologists in the country who worked with cave-deposited materials. He was a long-time NSS member who led initial paleontological studies in Trout Cave and worked as a research curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The John Guilday Cave Nature Preserve is managed with the goals of encouraging and monitoring bat hibernation, maintaining preservation of the paleontological sites, permitting recreational caving, and maintaining the woodland environment. In 2008 a cave gate was constructed for Trout Cave to protect the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) population that uses the cave as a winter hibernaculum. Because Trout Cave is now utilized by two endangered species, the Indiana bat in the winter and the Virginia Big Ear bat in the summer, it is closed most of the year, but has been opened for limited visitation with specific guidelines to avoid disturbance of the bat colonies. The other caves on the Preserve are open year-round.

The caves on this property have been known since the earliest settlement of Pendleton County, Virginia (now West Virginia), which at the time of first settlement was part of Augusta County. It appears that the caves first came under private ownership on July 19, 1787, when they were surveyed for John Penninger. The caves were already being worked for saltpeter, or were so worked shortly after that date. The first operator whose name we have was John Mefford, who leased a property across the river from John Penninger in 1795. The caves were worked for saltpeter from then until the end of the Civil War, though not continuously. According to the 1810 Census of Manufactures, the annual production of saltpeter was 4,000 pounds. According to the 1820 Census, 12,500 pounds of gunpowder was manufactured on the site during the War of 1812, using saltpeter extracted from the caves. At the time of the 1820 census however, it states (the) "works are presently not worth attending to."

During the Civil War, the caves were operated for the benefit of the Confederacy and were frequently raided by Union troops. There are no references to further economic uses of the caves themselves following the Civil War.

In 1867, the property changed hands, passing from the McCoy family to the Hiner family. Over the period 1870-1880, it passed from the Hiners to James W. Kee, who sold the property to Martin Moyers on March 1, 1882. The cave tract remained in the Moyers family, being part of a larger tract of some 1,142 acres at one time, from that date until March 15, 1983 when the NSS purchased the tract.

It appears that New Trout Cave had been forgotten for some time after the Civil War. It is sometimes referred to as "Little Cave.” Trout Cave is sometimes referred to as "Great Cave.” Hamilton Cave is named for the first clerk of the Pendleton County Court, Gavin Hamilton.

The caves were among the earliest ones explored and mapped by members of the NSS. Non-comprehensive maps of all three are included in William E. Davies’ Caverns of West Virginia (1958). Members of The DC Grotto and The Potomac Speleological Club re-mapped the caves in the 1980s and it is these maps that are now considered the most up-to-date and comprehensive.