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Along the Interstate 81 corridor in the state of Virginia, you will find a great number of caverns that you can tour. You have the famous Luray Caverns in Luray. You have Skyline Caverns in Front Royal. You have the Natural Bridge Caverns in Natural Bridge, Virginia. As you visit each cavern, you find a uniqueness to each one. This is also what you will discover when you visit Shenandoah Caverns in the town of Quicksburg. For those who are disabled and have mobility problems, Shenandoah Caverns is special because it was the first cavern to be handicap accessible, and it is now one of two caverns that is accessible to those who are handicapped. (Luray Caverns recently became handicap accessible.) Shenandoah Caverns is an amazing place to see, and you will be amazed at the numerous stalactites and stalagmites.
Some of you are saying, “Wow! How cool. This must be a beautiful place to see. There is one very big problem. Being a ‘cavern’ means that it is natural. Being natural means that there are no trains here. Therefore, I will naturally not be making a visit to this place.”
There has never been a train that has gone into this cavern. What does the railroad have to do with Shenandoah Caverns?
A visit to Shenandoah Caverns is a visit to see many things. The main attraction is, of course, the caverns. You also have the Caverns Café which is set up like an old 1950’s diner. It is a great place to have lunch. You then have ‘Main Street Yesteryear’, a place that takes you back in time to see the old displays from the old department stores.
Then you have the Yellow Barn. On the outside, it is a yellow barn, but the very first thing you will notice is the caboose. Yes, you want to see the caboose, but you must see what is inside. As you enter, you will see plates behind the receptionist desk. What is special about these plates? They have locomotives on them. Earl C. Hargrove, a former owner of the caverns, is a railroad fan, and this is just the beginning. There are displays inside the main room, but while you are walking through, you will want to look up. Why? You can see the model trains going around. In case you are wondering, this space is available to host your event.
As mentioned, Earl C. Hargrove is the former owner of the Shenandoah Caverns. (It is now owned by his daughter, Kathy.) Before Earl Hargrove was the owner of the caverns, he was a designer of parade floats. From his designing company in suburban Washington D.C. he designed floats for many parades to include town parades, the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California and numerous Presidential Inauguration parades in Washington D.C. Many of his parade floats are on display at ‘American Celebration on Parade’.
As you enter ‘American Celebration on Parade’, you will see a model train display on your left. After seeing the trains going around, you will want to enter the main hall to see all the floats. You will be amazed at the works. Two things you will see is a trolley that was used in a parade in Cheverly, Maryland. As you walk around some more, you will see your favorite float. What will be your favorite float? It will be the steam locomotive and caboose. It is a float that you can climb aboard. What is special about this float? It is the longest float on display. It was used in the 1994 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. It was here where the float won top honors. It was also used in President William Clinton’s 1997 Inauguration Parade and in three of Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Parades.
Now some of you are saying, “That is nice. Model trains. Trains on plates. A train float used at the Rose Parade. I guess that is everything.”
Not exactly. The Yellow Barn and American Celebration on Parade has railroad stuff. However, there is more. This has to do with the discovery of Shenandoah Caverns. How? In the autumn of 1884, the Southern Railway was building a line through the Shenandoah Valley which would have brought service to what is Quicksburg today. The rail line was being built next to a farm owned by a man named Abraham Neff. The railroad needed some limestone. Abraham allowed them to dig up his farm for the limestone. It was on one Sunday that the two sons decided to play in the quarry while the workers were resting for the day. While playing around, one of them felt cold air from the ground. It was at this time when they discovered what would be Shenandoah Caverns. In 1920, the property was sold to Hunter Chapman, a stockholder in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad who built a hotel (the current visitor center) at the caverns. Being a railroad man, he ran excursions from Washington D.C. to Shenandoah Caverns. Sadly, the trains no longer have passenger service to the caverns.
Shenandoah Caverns is located at 261 Caverns Road in Quicksburg, Virginia. It is just minutes from Interstate 81 and U.S. Route 11. Although the caverns and ‘Main Street Yesteryear’ are open year-round, the Yellow Barn and American Celebration on Parade are open seasonally. Access to the caverns is by way of an old elevator built in the 1930’s. Although it is handicap accessible, those using a wheelchair may need assistance through the cavern. You can get all of the information and learn more about the cavern at https://shenandoahcaverns.com/.
The next time somebody tells you that there is nothing about the railroad at Shenandoah Caverns, tell them to pay the place a visit. You will see a place that the railroad helped discover.
This article first appeared on johncowgillstoriesoftherailroad.com
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