The history of Shenandoah Caverns is intertwined with that of the beautiful and historic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the Native Americans who once populated and traversed the Valley.
Most caverns in the Shenandoah Valley formed as water trickled through tiny cracks in the stone, dissolving the lime, enlarging the cracks. The cracks became crevices, then channels, and finally, tunnels. The formation of Shenandoah Caverns was a bit different. Shenandoah Caverns' spectacular formations resulted from this movement of water, but, as the great inland sea receded, violent earthquakes also created faults that hastened and changed the caverns' formation.
The beautiful flowstone, unique bacon formations and the thousands of stalactite and stalagmite formations are the result of water moving through limestone, picking up infinitesimal amounts of lime and depositing it inside the cavern.
The coloring of the cavern comes from pigments of iron, magnesium and other minerals through which the water seeps.
A crevice caused by a blast during construction of the Valley Division of the Southern Railway in 1884 allowed vapor to escape and aroused the curiosity of several youths in the area. With a rope, the daring boys descended through the fissure to a depth of 150 feet. They thought they might find water, but instead, their flickering candles revealed caverns of such size and beauty that they hurried back to the surface to share the news of their discovery.
While one of the greatest wonders of the natural world had been discovered that day, it wasn’t until 1884 that an effort was made to determine the extent of the caverns. Even then, the crude illumination available to the two explorers didn’t allow them to appreciate fully the wonders beneath Cave Hill.
Development of Shenandoah Caverns began in 1921, and in 1922, they opened to the public.
A hotel opened on the site of the caverns’ entrance and attracted travelers by automobile, bus, and train. Air conditioning was provided using the naturally cool caverns’ air. The upper floor of the hotel was consumed by fire in 1957.Today, the second floor of the caverns’ lodge is home to the unique attraction, Main Street of Yesteryear, a collection of antique, animated window displays. These are the same displays families used to see when they visited Main Street department stores at holiday time.