Grand Caverns was discovered in 1804 by Bernard (Barnette) Weyer while trying to retrieve one of his traps. Weyers Cave opened for tours in 1806, making it the oldest continually operating show cave in the U.S. The caverns were also called the Grottoes of the Shenandoah until named Grand Caverns in 1926. Grand Caverns was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1973. In 1974 the caverns and surrounding acreage was gifted to the Upper Valley Regional Park Authority by its then owner Gladys Kellow and became known as Grand Caverns Regional Park. On October 1, 2009, the Town of Grottoes took possession of its namesake caverns, and consequently, the UVRPA dissolved.
The cave has gone through several owners and name changes since its discovery in 1804. For a short time after the discovery, the landowner tried to name the cave Amon’s or Amen’s Cave, after himself. The public quickly reverted to calling it Weyers Cave, in honor of its discoverer, which it was to bear for over 100 years.
In 1810, Matthias Amend deeded the property to his daughter Mary and her husband, Henry V. Bingham. Bingham sold the land to John Mohler in 1819 and the property remained in the Mohler family for many years. During the period from 1889 to 1893, the Grottoes Land Company owned Weyers Cave, which was sometimes referred to as the Grottoes of the Shenandoah.
The Pirkey Brothers bought the property in 1910 and built a lime kiln on the property. Holly Stover bought the property in 1926 and changed the name from Weyers Cave to Grand Caverns, as it is known today. During the term of the next owner, Gladys Kellow, the US Department of the Interior recognized the property as a National Natural Landmark.
In 1974 Miss Kellow gifted the property to the Upper Valley Regional Park Authority, who owned the caverns until 2009.
On October 1, 2009, the Town of Grottoes took possession of this glorious property.
Grand Caverns has been open continually since 1806. During the Civil War and the “Valley Campaign” the cave was visited by both Confederate and Union soldiers. There are over 200 verified civil war signatures in the cave. The most ‘famous’ signature is W. W. Miles. This signature is easily seen, and is one of the few pointed out to our visitors. Most of the signatures are very fragile, and are not pointed out in order to protect these historic ‘documents’.
The two largest engagements taking place near Cave Hill were the battle of Cross Keys on June 8, 1862, in which the Confederate forces, commanded by Maj. Gen Stonewall Jackson, defeated Union forces led by Gen. John Freemont.
On June 9, the following day, Jackson defeated a union force under the command of Brig. Gen. James Shields. The Confederates lost approximately 1,100 men while Union losses were approximately 2,100 men. From June 11-17, 1862, Stonewall's troops camped along the South River and visited the Caverns (then known as Weyer's Cave) The famous Confederate officer, Turner Ashby, lost his life in a skirmish on June 6, 1862 in Harrisonburg and was lain at state in Port Republic. Other well known names along with Jackson, Freemont, and Ashby were David Hunter, Percy Wyndham, Richard Ewell, and others. Major Jedediah Hotchkiss, Stonewall’s mapmaker, led an attack against enemy artillery being repulsed several times but eventually took the field.
On May 19, 1864 General Duvall, a Virginian of the 5th New York Volunteer Calvary, visited Grand Caverns with some of his Officers and Privates. Captain Kirkpatrick and others visited the Caverns on September 26, 1864 on their way to support an engagement in Waynesboro on the 28th. Captain W. W. Miles, of the 14th Pennsylvania Calvary, visited and signed the Caverns on September 26, 1864. Standing on Cave Hill today and viewing the serene landscape and bountiful farmland surrounding it, it is difficult to imagine that during a two day period in 1862, over 3,000 men lost their lives within a 5 mile range of Grand Caverns.