Renfro Valley Almanac 1953 Excerpt

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.

Article Submitted by Andy Niekamp


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