Saltpetre Cave is the largest cavern in the eastern part of the county.It is located in a limestone cliff about a half-mile west of Temple Hill. It was discovered prior to 1811. Mr. Franklin Gorin stated in his “Times of Long Ago” that it was owned during the war of 1812 by General Alexander Spottswood, grandson of the same, who was the Colonial Governor of Virginia. Gen. Spottswood lived in the large brick house that still stands at the corner of North Race and Front Streets in Glasgow.
About one mile of underground passages in this cave have been explored. Here, as at Mammoth Cave, there is an underground stream in which eyeless fish have been found. The dirt in this cave is richly impregnated with niter, the principal ingredient used in the manufacture of black gun powder. During the War of 1812, many men were employed in the processing of niter. The cave has been kept in the private sector, and never had guided tours in an effort to protect and preserve the evidence of this 19th century mining operation.
An old log house stood at the brow of the hill, about 100 yards NE of the lower entrance, in which it was claimed the workmen lived. This building was removed to the residence of Dr. CT Grinstead at Temple Hill in 1872 and was converted into a barn. Persons who visited the cave will recall the large mound of dirt just outside the entrance. This seems to have been the dumping place after processing.
Many human skeletons have been dug up at the lower entrance. They were found at a depth of 2 to 5 feet and as far back in the cave as 200 feet. Mr. John Nelson of Glasgow stated he dug up some 15 skeletons there over several years. It was the practice of the Indians here to bury the possessions of the deceased with them. Nelson found many spear points, tomahawks, arrow points, and beads made from teeth and bone laying parallel with the skeletons. It was originally believed this was the burial place of a prehistoric race. A skull was sent to an anthropologist in the early 1940s for examination. The anthropologist stated it was that of a Native American, and gave the name of the Indian tribe, but that has apparently been lost to posterity.
This used to be a favorite place for picnics in the early 1900s. It was visited more during the latter horse and buggy days, than in the last 80 or so years. The road until recent years was not well maintained, and the area is surprisingly remote, deterring all but the most serious explorers and adventurers.
In the late 1960s through the early 1980s, a group of teens used to go out there frequently. The owner of the property finally discouraged these meetings, and now it has been basically neglected. There are Private Property signs posted, and the trees and undergrowth have been allowed to grow and shield the way to the cave from the road.
At one point, an owner back in the 1940s had planned to install electric lights throughout the cave and conduct tours, but it is probably better he never succeeded. It has been many and many years since I took my tour, with a cousin and my late ex-husband. We wore miners’ hard hats and we each packed an extra flashlight. The year we went, it was spring or fall, and Skaggs Creek was at flood stage. We didn’t get to go through the lowest section of the cave, as it was under water at that time. It is quite an impressive adventure, but I would not have gone through it without an experienced caver. It would not be very difficult to become lost in the dark labyrinth!
It lends one a sense of eeriness to go below the earth, into utter darkness. I have met people over the years who have been inside Saltpetre that have had supernatural or profound unexplained incidents occur. Having been in there myself, I would believe most of it without a qualm.
Unseen, unexplainable, very real, and very scary to even the brave of heart. It is most definitely one of the most reputed haunted places in this area. I can say it is definitely on my list of places that make you a believer!
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