Shenandoah Caverns Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

Shenandoah Caverns Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

A natural attraction millions of years in the making celebrates its centennial.

One hundred years is a long time for any attraction, but this one’s history goes way, way back—millions of years, in fact. At its centennial, through the careful guardianship of just three families, Shenandoah Caverns remains a timeless treasure of the Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. 

History of Shenandoah Caverns

It was October of 1884 when the Southern Railway line construction came through Shenandoah County, Virginia and asked local farmer Abraham Neff to let them quarry limestone from his property located alongside the railroad. He allowed it.

One Sunday afternoon, when the workmen were away, Neff’s sons were playing in the quarry when they felt cool air rising from a hole. They retrieved ropes and candles and scrambled down at 275-foot winding shaft to discover a huge room filled with stalactites, stalagmites and flowstone. Too afraid to venture further, they went home and told the family what they discovered. The family explored the caverns system beyond.

When local businessman and B&O Railroad stockholder Hunter Chapman heard about the caverns, he made the Neffs an offer to purchase it, and in 1920, he began construction on the entrance and passageways. He also built a three-story lodge with a gift shop and a full-service hotel, and officially opened the caverns in May 1922. Now that the railroad was complete, train excursions began running directly from Washington, DC to Shenandoah Caverns—continuing until after WWII.

1920s Caverns Hotel and Train Excursion

Fun Fact About Shenandoah Caverns

Only caverns in Virginia with an elevator. Installed by the Westbrook Elevator Company of Danville, VA in 1931 and still in use today.

American Celebration on Parade

In 1954, Chapman sold the caverns to H.B. Long, a Shenandoah Valley entrepreneur. To build a float for Winchester’s annual Apple Blossom Parade, Long contacted Earl C. Hargrove, Jr., owner of the decorating company Hargrove, Inc. that had designed parade floats for every Presidential inaugural parade since Truman’s, and sets for inaugural balls and other national celebrations. When Hargrove visited Shenandoah Caverns, he told Long, “If you ever want to sell the caverns, let me know.” In 1966, that’s just what happened.

New owner Hargrove renovated the lodge’s second floor and opened Main Street of Yesteryear in 1993 to showcase antique window displays he had collected. And in 2000 he added American Celebration on Parade to exhibit parade floats his company created throughout the years. In 2007, the Yellow Barn opened as an events facility and agricultural display. Rounding out the Family of Attractions on site are the Gemstone Mining Sluice, the Caverns Café with its original 1957 Bastian Blessing soda fountain, and Earl’s Place Airbnb. In 2015, Earl Hargrove passed away and his daughter, Kathy Hargrove Kelly became owner of Shenandoah Caverns.

1957 Bastian Blessing soda fountain

What are your favorite memories of growing up at Shenandoah Caverns?

Kathy Kelly: “Dad bought the caverns when I was eight years old, and since we lived in Maryland, my older brother and two younger sisters and I piled into the car every weekend and stayed in the pre-Civil War house on the property that is now Earl’s Place (Airbnb). I remember seeing the joyful expressions on people’s faces as they experienced the caverns—I still enjoy it! When I ask people how they heard about us, they often say that they came here as a kid and are now bringing their own children and grandchildren.”

The Yellow Barn
Photo credit: Mary Jeanne Cincotta
Diamond Cascade at Shenandoah Caverns

For more than 70 years, another family has also been instrumental in the success of Shenandoah Caverns—the Proctor family. Current general manager Joe Proctor is the 3rd person in his family to assist with management. His uncle Verlin Proctor, Jr., and his father Billy Daniel Proctor both managed the property before him. Dan’s children have also worked here. “My father met Earl Hargrove on his first day here and they became true friends,” Proctor said. “Now, we have the legacy of the Hargroves and Proctors continuing that tradition.”

The caverns look very much as they did on opening day in 1922, with their original feel and atmosphere. Visitors enjoy the 17 unique rooms and spectacular formations like the sparkling Diamond Cascade, a flowstone calcite crystal formation and the “bacon” ribbon formations featured in Natural Geographic. It’s a family-friendly adventure enjoyed by generations. Guided caverns tours are held daily (except December 25). Other attractions may be open seasonally. Check the website for hours.

What are your favorite memories of growing up at Shenandoah Caverns?

Joe Proctor: “It was magical, unique, and I knew it was something special, and that somehow I was a part of that. I liked telling the kids at school that my dad worked here. I officially started working here in 1983 when I was 14, but I took people on many, many tours before that time as the ‘emergency tour guide.’”

Caverns Lobby 1957

The Smallest Post Office Played a Role

Inside the lobby, what could be the nation’s smallest post office played an important role at the hotel. But when the hotel closed, so did the post office. In 1966, when Interstate 81 was just being completed and exit names were needed, Hargrove reopened the post office and Shenandoah Caverns claimed the name on Exit 269 because of it. Today, visitors enjoy purchasing a postcard in the gift shop and getting it stamped with the Shenandoah Caverns postmark.

In the large gift shop, rocks and minerals are popular, along with traditional apparel like t-shirts and sweatshirts—an item appreciated since the caverns remain a constant 54 degree year-round. Shenandoah Caverns also represents some of the area’s local wineries and features its own branded wine—a best seller. 

Earl’s Place
Photo credit: Linda Barrett

Fun Fact About Shenandoah Caverns

First caverns in the world with a telephone system within the caverns. Installed 1922. See the original phones on display.

Grotto of the Gods at Shenandoah Caverns

100th Anniversary Celebration Planned

“The 100th anniversary is important to the local people as well as the traveling public,” Kelly said. “It’s been part of their lives for generation after generation, and we want to involve the local community and businesses in our celebration on May 21, 2022.” Details are still being planned, so check back for further information.

“One hundred years is a very short time in the history of the caverns, and I really do think that the hand of God has blessed the Valley in its beauty,” Proctor said. “We want to preserve it so everyone can see and enjoy it. Having done so for 100 years, we’re setting the stones in place for the future so it will be just as fabulous 100 years from now.”

Rainbow Lake at Shenandoah Caverns

Visit for upcoming celebrations surrounding the May 2022 anniversary.

Shenandoah Caverns

261 Caverns Road
Quicksburg, VA 22847
Exit 269 off I-81

Pictured at top:
Photo credit: Mary Jeanne Cincotta

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