March 20, 2013 — (Editor’s Note: Some readers told us after reading last week’s first installment of this series that other names and events should be added to those we listed as significant in the development of Carter Caves as a state resort park. Today: Footnotes to history.)
We learned last week that several families, some well known and others relatively unknown, apparently share a deep pride in what their ancestors did to convert a good but underfunded business concept into what has become the tourism jewel known today as Carter Caves State Resort Park.
We will start with the names of those eight prominent citizens of Carter County who accepted the invitation of the visionary J. F. Lewis of Carter City and invested in the Carter Caves Company, a for-profit stock company with 1,000 shares of common stock.
They included Ollie M. Lewis, W. M. Tabor, R. M. Bagby, Dr. J. Watts Stovall, Thomas S. Yates, John M. Rose, J. A. Bagby and Wick H. Strother.
Thanks to Jonathon Lewis, author of “Carter Caves State Resort Park: A Living History”, for helping us fill in the details of those early years. His book, now in a second printing, is available at the park’s gift shop.
J. F. Lewis was his great-great grandfather.
The company’s business plan was to harvest virgin timber from the original acreage and use those proceeds to finance facilities that would bring tourists to Carter Caves to see the caves and to enjoy the incredible scenery of that rugged, isolated part of Carter County.
That enterprise lasted just over 20 years but eventually fell victim to wartime rationing of gasoline and other factors, particularly the untimely death of J. F. Lewis in late 1937.
Early on, the lack of a dependable, passable road to bring visitors the four miles from US 60 to the caves property was overcome in 1929 with the state’s construction of what is now KY 182.