The Lost Sea and the discovery of Craighead Caverns

11/19/2010
field trip adventure

Craighead Caverns was named after an Indian chief who at one time owned the property and the cave, and who may well have discovered the tiny opening that was its natural entrance. Chief Craighead acquired the land through either the Ocoee or Hiwassee Land Grants.

Artifacts found in the vicinity of the “Council Room” around 1927-28, included pottery, arrowheads, weapons, etc., and indicated deep penetration of Cherokee Indians to this circular room where it is speculated they may have held council meetings.

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This Anthodite is a very rare cave formation.

In 1915, Mr. George Kyle became owner of the property and first conceived the idea of developing the cave for the public. A dance floor was installed in the Big Room and cock fights were staged in the same area.

Craighead Caverns is just 25 miles from “Chotow,” historic capital of the Cherokee nation. This would be near the present community of Vonore.

At the same time Chief Craighead owned Craighead Caverns, around 1820, the first white settlers were entering the Tennessee Valley. These pioneers used the Sand Room to store potatoes and other vegetables-and this custom continued until recent time.

During the Civil War (1863) parts of the cave were mined for salt-peter — which was used as a principal ingredient in the manufacturing of gunpowder.

In 1905 Mr. Ben F. Sands, then just a boy, became interested in Craighead Caverns. His father before him, Mr. John Sands, had also explored oftentimes in the cave, and guided interested parties. It was Ben, however, who pushed beyond the fluctuating pool of the Spring Room through the tiny mud crawlway — and into the Lake Room — discovering the Lost Sea. Rumors of a large lake in Craighead Caverns had existed before Ben Sands discovery, but these may have referred to the elusive back-waters in the Spring Room, and not the actual chamber of the Lost Sea.

In 1915, Mr. George Kyle became owner of the property and first conceived the idea of developing the cave for the public. A dance floor was installed in the Big Room and cock fights were staged in the same area. Mr. Kyle’s early efforts were only partially successful. At the same time elsewhere in the cavern, moonshiners were operating the first of several stills that functioned in the cave.

In 1927 Craighead Caverns was formed. A larger more accessible entrance was opened below the natural one to make entering the cave less strenuous. The Tennessee Power Co. installed the first lighting system — which was among the first cave systems in the country; all exposed of course, but a source of great pride to the developers-and also to the Power Company. The lighting of the cave was responsible for early rural electrification in the area. Farmers cooperated in cutting poles and providing right-of-way in order to have electric service.

In 1940-55 Van Michael, who was then just a boy, began to dream of developing the cave. He operated the cave for a couple of seasons-and took, almost single-handed a thousand or so visitors through. In November, 1963, Van Michael’s dream grew to full scale, and he began promoting the development of the Lost Sea. In September of 1964 the Craighead Caverns Company was formed, and in December of 1964 the development began. In June of 1965, a group of stockholders opened Lost Sea Caverns as a tourist attraction.

The Lost Sea is open for tours every day but Christmas Day it is a great place to visit summer or winter. For more information visit www.thelostsea.com or call 423-337-6616.

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Issue 18.3 | Winter/Spring 2017

Southeast Education Network

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