Carved over tens of thousands of years in one of the earth's oldest mountain chains,
Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend, Tenn., is known as the "Greatest Site Under
Estimated to be between 20 and 30 million years old, the Caverns are rich in history
and lore in recent years as well.
According to legend, the Cherokee Indians knew of the Caverns and hid in them before the white man discovered them about 1850.
All the Cherokees lived in this part of the nation until about 1840 when the United States forced them to move to Oklahoma in a bitter winter trip known as “The Trail of Tears.” Some refused to leave and eventually were granted land in western North Carolina at Cherokee.
Early White Settlers Find the Caverns
The first white men began to settle in this area in the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s. Written reports tell of the discovery of the caverns by white man about the middle of the 19th century when sawmill workers watched water from a heavy rain pour into a sink hole in the area. The hole was filled with debris but one of the men found an opening in the rock and made his way to what is now the entrance of the caverns.
Even before the caverns were discovered, there were reports of a cool spot in the valley near a sink hole. Apparently the year-around 58-degree temperatures of the Caverns were cooling those who lingered near the sink hole which later became the entrance.
Local women were reported to have taken their sewing and other “chores” which could be moved easily to the opening in the hot summer months to benefit from the cooling breezes. Many children took their summer naps there. These same breezes now are piped into the gift shop and visitor center to help air-condition the buildings.
A crystal clear stream flows through the length of the caverns, draining much of the surface water from a small Alpine cove, Dry Valley, located directly above part of the caverns. The valley for its name long before it was known why the water disappeared quickly following heavy rains.