Adventures underground in southern Indiana
By Peggy Ammerman Sailors
Squire Boone Village photo
Published: Jul/Aug 2000
When Indiana became a state in 1816 and the first state capitol was built in the southern Indiana town of Corydon, the surrounding countryside of the Ohio River Valley was still a frontier wilderness marked by its caves and fraught with danger and discovery.
The danger may be gone, but the discovery remains.
Visitors to the region today can still find the spirit of the frontier where lawmakers first met to hammer out a constitution and where frontiersmen Daniel Boone and his brother, Squire, explored the wild and perilous landscape. In fact, a cave they stumbled upon during a hunting trip would one day save Squire Boones life.
Legendary frontiersman Boone and his younger brother, Squire, were among the first to explore the thickly wooded hills of southern Indiana, about 33 miles west of Louisville, Ky. In 1790, while hunting in the Buck Creek area, the Boone brothers found a spring gushing from a hillside and behind it, the mouth of a cave. Further up the hill, they found another opening for a smaller cave.
In 1804, Squire Boone returned to the southern Indiana hills with plans of building a gristmill along the spring-fed stream that he had seen years before. He was surveying the area when he encountered a party of hostile American Indians. Fortunately, he remembered the small cave, where he hid until it was safe to emerge. Ever since, Boone regarded the cave as holy ground and requested that upon his demise, he be laid to rest there.
The log gristmill at Squire Boone Caverns still grinds corn. Visitors can also watch other 19th-century craft demonstrations in the village./ Squire Boone Caverns photo
Today, at Squire Boone Caverns, roughly 10 miles south of Corydon, visitors can tour the subterranean network of cavern passageways and chambers where waterfalls roar and spectacular formations gleam. You can also watch corn being ground at Squire Boones reconstructed 1804 gristmill and browse shops in a log cabin village.
The caverns stay a comfortable 54 degrees year round and the cave trail is paved and well lit with some stairs. Guide Joe Bliss explains how the joining of a stalactite and stalagmite formed a mammoth column called Rock of Ages. He reminds the group that stalactites hold tight to the ceiling while stalagmites rise with all their might from the cave floor.
A spectacular waterfall called Fountain of the Deep rushes over a wide ledge plunging into two narrow channels. Along with stunning flowstone formations, which look like waterfalls of liquid rock frozen in time, the caverns are known for ancient rimstone dams. Ending the tour is a 73-step climb up a circular metal staircase.
At Boones 1804 log gristmill you can watch an 18-foot wheel grind corn, then buy a souvenir sack of cornmeal to take home. Log cabins in the adjacent village house shops for candle and soap making, a bakery, and a candy and a rock shop.
Anna Haun, who has been making candles for 14 years, oversees a crew that shows how candles are made by hand.
Visitors can also watch how pioneers made soap in a big black kettle over an open fire. The bakery sells bread, cookies and the villages popular cornmeal pie, which tastes like pecan pie. A huge rock shop sells rocks and minerals from more than 20 countries, and the gift shop carries books and mementos.
About a year after Squire Boone died and was laid to rest in his beloved cave, delegates from the Indiana Territory met in nearby Corydon to draft a state constitution. Along with meeting in the newly constructed state capitol on the town square, they sought the cool shade of an elm tree where much of their work was completed.
Today, you can tour the handsome capitol, which served as the seat of government from 18161825. Nearby is a memorial and trunk of the famous Constitution Elm. Other historic sites from Corydons early territorial and state capital days include Gov. Hendricks Headquarters, a red brick house that served as a headquarters office, as well as residence for the states second elected governor in the 1820s.
Experience more history when you hop aboard the Corydon Scenic Railroad for a scenic 90-minute ride through the picturesque countryside.
For more underground adventures, Wyandotte Caves in the Harrison-Crawford State Forest and Marengo Cave are tucked below the hills of southern Indiana not far from Squire Boone Caverns.
Peggy Ammerman Sailors is a contributor from Indianapolis.