HUNTSVILLE CAVE--DOES IT REALLY EXIST?
by Joy Russell
A few weeks ago before I was to speak to the third graders at Watson Elementary about the history of the Town of Huntsville, I was challenged by a question that was given to me by them concerning whether or not there is a cave located under the Huntsville Square. It seems that some of the third graders had heard rumors that there was a cave and that perhaps there might be "buried treasure" in it. This was a subject they wanted to know about and since I had suggested to their teachers that they prepare some questions to ask me, I was obligated to try and find the answer for them. I had also heard rumors that there was a cave under the City but I had never heard or read any definite facts about it. Since there seemed to be nothing written about it, I placed a notice in this newspaper asking that people call me if they had ever heard anything about it.
As a result of that notice, I have spoken with about a dozen people concerning this cave. It seems that a lot of people have heard of it but that most people were in the same position that I was in...they knew only bits and pieces about it. But after talking with these people and by putting all of their bits and pieces together, I have gathered the following information about the cave.
Yes, it seems that there definitely IS "something" located under the Square of Huntsville. My dictionary defines a cave as "a hollow space underground or an underground cavity", so by using that definition and weighing the information I was told, I tried to determine if this should be classified as "a cave".
Some people said that they didn't think this was really a cave but was merely a series of tunnels that had been carved in the rock by water. One person remembers that years ago they had heard a young man speak of these tunnels after he had explored some of them. The young man related that some parts of the tunnels were tall enough to walk upright in and other parts were so small that they required a person to crawl on their belly to get through them. It seems that these tunnels run in many different directions and whether or not all of them connect is not known.
One person said that this couldn't be classified as a cave because the entrances were only "sinkholes" and that there wasn't a proper cave opening by which to enter it. At one time it seems that there were several of these sinkholes located at various locations around Huntsville but over the years people have filled them up because they were a nuisance. The "sinkhole" that most people remember was located somewhere in a field near the Huntsville Cemetery. Since the old two-story school building was located nearby, it was common knowledge among the people who attended school there, that this "sinkhole" led to an underground tunnel. This two-story school building was moved from its location on College Street by rolling it on logs to the present location of Watson Elementary School in 1928.
Huntsville has many out-croppings of limestone rock that protrude out of the ground . Several of the openings to the tunnels were located in these areas. One such opening was apparently located near the corner of Lee and Maple Streets, south of the current post office. I was told that a landowner poured concrete into this opening to seal it up. About 1936, Chancie Duncan used to relate the story of how a dog was chasing a rabbit and entered into the opening at this location. The dog and rabbit both disappeared and after several days the dog crawled out of the sinkhole that was located in the field near the Huntsville Cemetery on the other side of town from where it went in.
Somewhere near where the street goes around the "Hill" to the Middle School, there was another opening. Years ago some of the boys would play hooky from school and would hide out in the tunnel located here until it was time to go home from school. Another opening was located under what is now the new playground between the present kindergarten building and the gym. Because this opening was such a nuisance, for many years it was used to dispose of cans, bottles and trash from the school, and when it was almost full, dirt was spread over it to cover it completely.
I was also told by one person about a vast cavity that was discovered when a local cafe was being built years ago. Stones were dropped into this cavity and it was determined that it was too deep to fill in. It was decided to put it to use, so the cafe drained its plumbing into the hole. By the way, this cafe is no longer in operation and has not been for a long time.
Another opening that I was told about was apparently located somewhere near the old "Famous" building on the south side of the square. Before the square and the roads were paved, there was an opening somewhere near this building. Within the last couple of years, while digging in the alley behind the Cain building to repair an utility line, the backhoe bucket being used by the utility crew broke into an underground opening which was located only about two feet under the top of the ground. I called one of the men who were present at the time and he told me that this happened on a day when the temperature was in the 20's. According to him, at the time the backhoe bucket broke through the ground into the tunnel, steam came up out of the tunnel for about an hour. He felt this steam was caused because the temperature inside the tunnel was warmer than the air temperature. When the tunnel filled with cooler air, the steam stopped and the crew stuck their heads down into the hole and looked into the tunnel with their flashlights. The tunnel ran as far as they could see both to the North and South and the floor of the tunnel was located about 8 or 9 feet below the surface of the ground. According to Howard and Dixie Cain, there were several dumptrucks full of gravel dumped into it but this didn't begin to fill it up. The utility company finally placed a large metal pipe across the hole and ran their pipes inside of it and were able to cover it this way.
As to whether or not all of the tunnels from these openings connect or not...I have no answer. The young men who years ago entered the sinkhole near the Huntsville Cemetery evidently
were able to travel through the tunnels and exited on the south side of the square near the old "Famous" building. They told of being able to hear the sound of horses and wagons overhead on the unpaved street when they were in the tunnel. From this information it would seem that the tunnel they traveled in did in fact reach from near the Cemetery and extended under the Square.
I received a call from Thelma Faulkner who told me that when she was a small child she remembers vividly that one day her mother was very upset because she had discovered that Thelma's two brothers, Albert and Noel King, had went into the cave. According to Thelma they went through the tunnels and talked about them for years.
Also Howard and Dixie Cain have related to me that when they ran a cafe on the square many years ago, that Harry Logue and his brother went into the cave. Evidently going into caves was their hobby and on one such excursion one of the Logue brothers got stuck in a narrow place in one of the tunnels and it took quite an effort to get him out. Dixie thought the Logue brothers said that there was one big room under the square and a lot of tunnels.
History of the settlement of Huntsville records that one reason the early settlers decided on this location for a town was its abundant springs that would provide water. On the property previously owned by Arlis Coger behind Ozark Foods, there is a big spring that used to have a huge oak tree beside of it. This location is recorded as being where Indian tribes and white men held their pow-wows and may have signed treaties for the Indians to move out of this country. Some people who called me thought there was an opening near this spring that went into the cave. Going East from that location, all the way down Swamp Street, springs were known to exist. In fact the reason Swamp Street is so named is because it did in fact used to be a "swampy" area and water stood there. Many have said that these springs seep out of the underground tunnels.
Before it was filled in, an old hand-dug well located within a couple of blocks of the square contained water that constantly moved. Instead of the water standing still in the bottom of the well, it would seem that there was an underground stream running through the well. Water in this well was always known to be ice cold.
Another story that I have heard was that these tunnels were used in the 1860's to hide slaves that were escaping from the South to the safety of the North. Supposedly this was one of the stops on the "underground railroad" that was in operation to assist them. I could find nothing to prove this theory so I couldn't say if this was true or not.
I did ask at the City Hall if there were any kind of documents or surveys that the City might have that would show any of these tunnels and I was told that there was nothing.
Based on the above information and the definition that a cave is "a hollow space underground or a underground cavity", I would have to say , " Yes, I do believe there is a cave under the Square as well as other parts of the town of Huntsville". As to whether or not this cave contains "treasure" as some of the third graders have heard...I believe the only "treasure" to be found would probably be sewage and old bottles, cans and trash that have been tossed into some of the sinkholes. When I reported my findings to the third graders, the question I heard most was "Why would anyone want to fill in the openings and keep people out". That's a question that each landowner would have to answer individually, but I can guess that these landowners probably weren't nearly as excited as the third graders were about having a hole in the ground on their property. As far as I know at this time, there are no openings that give access to the tunnels , however, I can't help but wish there were because I am curious as to what exactly is down there.
I want to express my "Thanks" to all of the third graders at Watson Elementary for having inquiring minds that wanted to know about this cave rumor that they had heard. Because of them and their interest, this story has been researched and written and now there is some recorded information about the cave that did not exist before. I'm certain that this covers only a small part of what is known about the "Huntsville Cave" and I urge anyone else that knows other information to contact me. If you enjoyed reading this story, stop by the library of the Madison County Genealogical and Historical Society and find out more about Madison County's history.
© 1999-2001 by Joy Russell. All rights reserved.
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