|Great Saltpetre Cave, located near Renfro Valley, Kentucky, and
owned by John Lair and Dr. Walker Owens, was explored and recorded
nine years before Mammoth Cave was discovered by white men. it is
believed that members of the Daniel Boone party occasionally used
Great Saltpetre Cave as a shelter and hiding place on one of their
first visits to Kentucky. The skeleton of Stewart, Boone's companion
shot down by the indians, was found in a hollow sycamore tree on
Rockcastle River, not far from this cave.
In 1799 sixty men were
engaged in producing saltpetre crystals here for the manufacture of
gunpowder, making this at that time possibly the biggest single
industry in this section of the Kentucky Mountains. Work in Great
Saltpetre Cave continued in to the Civil War, when the project was
abandoned. Old vats and wooden pipes marking the location of the
saltpetre works in use during the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and
the Civil War are still to be seen in this cave. Many old relics
removed from it in past years are now on display in the Pioneer
Museum at Renfro Valley.
At first the saltpetre crystals were taken by pack horse and
canoe to Pittsburgh powder mills and later to a mill in Lexington,
Kentucky. Still later a powder mill was erected in nearby Powdermill
Hollow to use the entire output of the cave.