The hunt for Log Cabin Cave
Being a resident of Wytheville, Log Cabin Cave has long been an interest of mine. I’ve had a fair number of meals, and more than a fair number of drinks at the restaurant, and there’s just something intriguing knowing there’s alleged to be a cave somewhere under your table. Conversations with long-time town and county residents turned up very little information about the alleged cave… quite the different response when compared to previous cave inquiries. Interestingly enough, while many town residents swore via third hand “knowledge” that a cave ran under the town (allegedly from somewhere past the East End Cemetery all the way to the location of the old courthouse (no longer extant)) they almost universally expressed surprise that a cave existed under the restaurant.
While few seemed to know anything of a cave beneath the restaurant, those who did claim to know something (typically the very oldest of those queried) generally seemed to agree in many respects, which I took as a good sign. What little I learned was that the original structure of the restaurant was built circa 1776 – long before even the county was incorporated in 1789 and long before the existence of the town, when the area was decidedly frontier. The story went that the cabin was built atop a small cave that was to be used as a hiding place or escape route in case of Indian attack. Additional information indicated the cave ran from the restaurant, under Main St., and exited through a second entrance located a few blocks away. Beyond that, little was known.
Eventually curiosity overcame my laziness and I turned to my favorite sources: Douglas, Holsinger, and the VSS. (Being the county director does have some perks.) Douglas, as expected was exceedingly vague: “Log Cabin Cave is located at the Log Cabin Restaurant on Rt. 11 E. of Wytheville. –E Thierry.” Yeah. I already knew that. (In fairness though, Thierry doesn’t say he entered the cave, nor even viewed it. He only reported what he was told.) Holsinger was a bust. The VSS county records were only marginally better than Douglas; those records start with Earl Thierry’s 1949 report which is only slightly less verbose than Douglas’ description. They end disappointingly. “When the Log Cabin was last remodeled the old chimney was torn down and the bricks thrown into the cave with the trapdoor being removed. […] The second entrance was sealed shut by the town.” Not willing to blindly accept this, I forged ahead, starting my own search with the current owner of the “1776 Log House Restaurant”, Mr. James Green. I met with Mr. Green on Feb. 3, 2016 and was pleased to learn that he was more than willing to talk about the restaurant and the cave beneath.
Mr. Green’s account* of the restaurant and cave begins around 1770 when a Revolutionary War veteran named “Will” (“Will somebody; I can’t recall his last name” – James Green) acquired a small land grant from a Stuart Campbell. “Will” built a two room cabin on what is now Main St. The layout was one room up, and one room downstairs, with a chimney on the north-eastern end of the cabin. The original front of the building faced towards what is now East Monroe St. Eventually, the house was acquired by the Chadwell family sometime prior to the Civil War. According to Mr. Green, Abby Chadwell (mistress of the house) hid and treated wounded Civil War soldiers in the cave beneath the cabin. I assume these would have soldiers wounded in the so-called “battle of Wytheville”, better known as “Toland’s raid.” (July 18, 1863 – elements of the 34th Ohio volunteers under the command of Col. John Toland entered Wytheville while attempting to destroy area railroad track, telegraph lines and the nearby lead mines. Citizens and the local militia engaged the Union troops in the streets of Wytheville, killing Toland and several of his troops before withdrawing. Union troops burned portions of the town in retaliation.) After the war the structure passed to the Rosenheim family, then to the Robinsons, and ultimately it became the location of the Rich Brothers furniture shop before passing to the Cook family. According to Mr. Green, the structure remained vacant for 8 to 10 years before the Cook family acquired the property with the intention of tearing down the cabin to build a dry cleaners shop on the property. Instead, the Cooks also acquired the property across the street and established their dry cleaning business where it now stands at 545 E. Main St. Mr. Green acquired the property in 1976. He said when he acquired it, the entire structure was covered practically to the roof with vines and was in generally poor repair.
At various times in the structure’s history additions were built in several directions, primarily to the north-east and the northwest sides (the original front and chimney side.) The original structure can, however, still be easily discerned. In the photo below it is the section outlined in red. The blue arrow indicates the original (and extant) north-eastern exterior wall while the blue rectangle indicates a filled-in-but-original window casing. The central chimney is located approximately where the original chimney stood.
During our conversation Mr. Green admitted he’d never been in the cave, but had heard there was a cave beneath the original house. He further related how, a few years after opening the restaurant a very old man family stopped in and told of growing up the house; he was one of the Rosenheim children. Mr. Rosenheim told Mr. Green that as a child he and his siblings frequently played in the cave; it ran under Main St. and was accessed through a trapdoor inside a closet. When Mr. Green acquired the property he said it already had the current chimney and that the original floor had been replaced. He did, however, show me the location of where a closet existed at the time of his acquisition. The closet extended from the original front exterior wall and clear to the left of the fireplace. Currently, that space is occupied by a dining booth. Clearly any trapdoor that may have existed was lost when the building was renovated sometime in the not too distant past. Perhaps evidence of the cave still existed beneath the building, however.
Mr. Green graciously offered us access to the crawl space. Myself and grotto members Jason Lachniet, Zach Taylor, and Eric Cueva met a few days later to go see what we could see.The crawl space is entered by descending a set of stairs into a more recent sump area beneath a later addition and then climbing up over some pipes and through a hole in what was/is the original structure’s foundation..
Crawling through the old foundation
Zach Taylor and Jason Lachniet beneath the original structure
After crawling beneath the original structure, there was nothing immediately evident of the cave, nor even of the rubble pile that remained of the original chimney allegedly used to fill the cave entrance. (Remember, reports were that the original chimney had been pulled down and the rubble thrown into the cave entrance.) An old mix pile immediately in front of the chimney seemed to indicate where perhaps the masons stood and worked from and mixed their mortar and some various fragments of very old crumbly brick were scattered atop the dirt.
A view of the chimney base looking from the southwest towards the northeast. Presuming the closet Mr. Green reported was the same one containing the trapdoor, the cave should be to the immediate left of the chimney. Note the old mix pile immediately in front of the chimney.
The mix pile, seen from the side where the cave should have been.
I began by digging a test pit to the left of the chimney (under said booth/closet)in hopes of finding the top of a rubble pile. Surely something as large as a two-story chimney would have a sizable amount of rubble, one would think…right? No joy. I dug a test pit perhaps a foot deep and a couple feet in diameter beneath the location Mr. Green indicated the closet stood but found no evidence of brick rubble beyond an occasional small fragment. Likewise, a test pit was dug on the other side of the chimney with similar results. An examination of the current chimney’s foundation does reveal in interesting detail however: a square void, filled in with older bricks, mostly fragmentary in nature.
Zach, shovels in the foreground.
A close-up the filled-in void on the chimney’s foundation.
Assuming the cave existed, I can only guess that perhaps the original chimney’s rubble was cast into the cave’s entrance and was used as the basis for the current chimney’s foundation. Regardless, no trace of the cave nor of any rubble pile remains under the original structure of the 1776 Log House Restaurant as of 2016. In retrospect, the only other possibility might be the mix pile: it could be sitting atop an even larger pile of old brick rubble. If so, it would take a major effort to dig it back open.
So what about the second entrance – the one “sealed shut by the Town”?
Certainly, Wytheville has changed since Earl Thierry’s time, and even more since the cave’s second entrance was still open. At that time, the second entrance was in a vacant lot “on a street corner.” Pulling from a variety of sources – oral traditional, old grotto newsletters and correspondence, plotting and comparison of competing sets of unreliable UTM coordinates, etc., the likely entrance that was sealed by the town lies in a vacant lot near a local church.
Speaking of UTM coordinates, the vast majority of those coordinates were gained by comparing them to know geographic features and/or scaling them off of 15 minute maps and are thus notoriously inaccurate. Modern GPS’s show cave locations to be several hundred yards off from the originally-reported locations in many instances. In the case of Log Cabin Cave, two different sets of unreliable coordinates exist. One set had the log house’s entrance located under what’s actually the local Catholic Church, clearly demonstrating the degree of error one encounters. Still, starting there (we have to start somewhere, right) and plotting the second entrance, as well as doing teh same with teh second set of coordinates effectively gives me two parallel lines running northeast to southwest and separated by about two blocks. Using that to determine a general direction of the cave’s passage, going off of very vague and old descriptions, and looking at the lay of the land helps us further determine the second entrance as well as to loosely locate the cave as being beneath the NAPA auto parts store sits. Kind of backing that up, the owner of the NAPA auto parts store has told me that the smell of gasoline seems to come up through the floor during particularly heavy rains.
Coming full circle, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of the existence of Log Cabin Cave, but it’s clear that the cave exists now only in the town’s history. Fitting, I guess, since this trip report turned out to be more of a history lesson than a cave report.