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A 333-foot history

  • 1810

    Located in Cardwell Mountain, in McMinnville, Tennessee, Cumberland Caverns was discovered in 1810 by Aaron Higgenbotham, early surveyor and turnpike builder. Venturing into the cave alone, Higgenbotham was trapped on a high ledge for three days when his torch went out. According to local legend, his hair turned white by the time a rescue party could locate him.

  • 1838

    Higgenbotham built a road nearby, over which the Cherokees descended the mountain while on the Trail of Tears in 1838. During the Civil War, saltpeter was mined in the cave for the manufacture of Confederate gunpowder.

  • 1838

    The name Shelah Waters and the date 1869 are inscribed on the walls in candle smoke, and scratched into the rock in many remote areas. This is the oldest name and date found in the cave. Additionally, Higgenbotham Cave is mentioned in old histories of Warren County as a local attraction and is first described in print by Thomas L. Bailey in Resources of Tennessee in 1918.

  • 1950

    Members of the National Speleological Society began an exploration of Higgenbotham Cave in 1945. In 1953, explorers discovered that an extensive breakdown separated Henshaw Cave from a chamber adjacent to the Ten Acre Room. An artificially-enlarged opening now connects the two caves, simplifying access to the more prominent centers of exploration.

  • 1955

    Shortly after discovering the Henshaw Cave Entrance, a new series of galleries, known as the Great Extension, came to be. Gypsum deposits of profusion and beauty are found throughout these seven miles of passages. The development of portions of the system, including the Henshaw Cave and Ten Acre Room, was undertaken in 1955, and the name was changed to Cumberland Caverns.

  • Now

    Today, Cumberland Caverns is one of the most extensive caves in America. Extended exploration of previously unseen sections along with the integration of the two caves make up the 27 underground miles that can be toured today. Cumberland Caverns maintains a century-long reputation for its vastness and rare formations. The cave is now recognized as a National Natural Landmark* and show cave located in McMinnville, Tennessee. It is the longest show cave in Tennessee and makes the list of longest caves in the United States and in the world.

The National Natural Landmarks Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources. Sites are designated by the Secretary of the Interior for their condition, illustrative character, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education. The National Park Service administers the program and works cooperatively with landowners, managers, and partners to promote conservation and appreciation for our nation's natural heritage.