March 20, 2013 —
Despite being a seasonal operation in terms of cash flow, J. F. Lewis and his Carter Caves Company embraced innovative ideas when they could afford them.
Among the more noteworthy was using a gasoline-powered generator to provide electricity for lights to allow visitors to more fully enjoy the natural features of two of the caverns carved over millions of years of water coursing through limestone.
Spring water was collected inside Saltpetre Cave for use as drinking water. It was pumped to the ticket office, a log structure which survives to this day as the Welcome Center/Gift Shop with several additions and renovations along the way.
Individual log cabins and a hotel were built as overnight lodging for early visitors, a tradition that flourishes today with the park’s highly popular rental cottages and Lewis Caveland Lodge.
Judge R. C. Littleton of Grayson apparently initiated discussions between the Grayson and Olive Hill Rotary Clubs that led to a countywide fundraising campaign that generated $40,000 to buy out the remaining interests of the Carter Caves Company.
The sale price was $5,000 less than what J. F. Lewis paid originally for the nearly 1,000 acres in 1924.
It reflected the good intentions of Lewis and the remaining investors who came to realize that converting Carter Caves into a state park was its only chance of surviving and for preserving the underground treasures for the future.
Local landowners in the caves area, including the Justice, Maggard and Plummer families, gave their crop proceeds to the fund drive.
They were among literally hundreds of citizens who stepped up to give what they could in hopes of seeing a state park become a reality.
It should be noted that a local newspaper editor wrote as early as 1902 that Carter Caves should become a state park.
Some of the caves were being visited by residents of Cincinnati who traveled by excursion trains.