all commercial caves in Virginia are located in the limestone formations west of the Blue Ridge
Source: Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources, Caves
The oldest commercial show cave in America was discovered by a hunter near Waynesboro in 1804. The landowner, Matthias Amend, sought to have the cave named after himself, but locals chose to name it Weyers Cave after the hunter, Bernard (Barnette) Weyer. Later it was called Grottoes of the Shenandoah, but since 1926 is has been known known as Grand Caverns.
Grand Caverns was privately owned until 1974, and operated by the Upper Valley Regional Park Authority between 1974-2009. When the cities of Staunton and Harrisonburg and the counties of Augusta and Rockingham dissolved their regional park authority, the Town of Grottoes took ownership and responsibility for offering commercial tours.1
Volunteers from the National Speleological Society started to support this publicly-owned cave, when it requested assistance in preparing a new cave map prior to the 2006 bicentennial. New mapping determined the cave was closer to four miles long rather than just one mile. The process re-discovered the original entrance to Fountain Cave, and led to the discovery of nearly a dozen new caves.2
an 1853 edition of Notes On The State Of Virginia included Thomas Jefferson's map of Madison's Cave, plus a map of Amens Cavern (now known as Grand Caverns)
Source: Internet Archive, Notes On The State Of Virginia (1853 edition)
Other commercial caves in Virginia have been renamed as well. In late 2002, the National Park Service re-opened the old Cudjo Cave at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Within the park, paved Highway 23 through the gap was obliterated after the Cumberland Gap Tunnel was completed and the approximate contours of the historic road were restored. At the end of that process, the National Park Service restored the most historic name of the cave, Gap Cave. At other times, it has also been known as King Solomon's Cave and Soldier's Cave.3
The Thomas Jefferson referred to it as Gap Cave in his Notes on the State of Virginia, and indicated that it was a "blowing cave." In such caves, daily temperature changes trigger movement of outside air through the cave entrance, into or out of a cave in which air temperature is consistent throughout the year.4
The commercial caverns in Virginia are not the longest, or deepest, in the state. Instead, they are the most convenient for tourists, due to their location near highways and the ability to create walking paths underground. There is a cluster of four commercial caves in the northern ("lower") part of the Shenandoah Valley; Grand Caverns, Endless Caverns, Shenandoah Caverns, and Luray Caverns are located within less than a 1-hour drive from each other.5
the Shenandoah Sentinel described a visit to Rufner's Cave near Luray in 1825
Source: A new and comprehensive gazetteer of Virginia, and the District of Columbia (by Joseph Martin, 1935)
The commercial cave business is a business, requiring owners to either make a profit or to subsidize operations. A cave with spectacular formations such as Luray Caverns can attract 500,000 visitors annually even though it is not on an interstate highway, but less-spectacular Dixie Caverns right at Exit 132 on I-81 gets only 30,000 visitors each year.6
Major Alexander J. Brand's article in the New York Herald provided the name for Luray Caverns
Source: Chronicling America, The New York Herald (November 6, 1878)
In 2010, tourism declined in an economic recession. Crystal Caverns at Hupp's Hill (also known as Hupp's Cave and Battlefield Crystal Caverns) closed after being open to the public since 1922. The Crystal Caverns at Hupp's Hill name reflects the purity of the Chambersburg formation limestone, which resulted in crystals that sparkled when illuminated.
The National Speleological Society has considered partnering with the nearby Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation and the Town of Strasburg, to re-open the cave occasionally to offer public tours.7
the cave at Dixie Caverns, found thanks to a search for a dog named Dixie, is in the hill behind the entrance
Rev. Horace Hovey mapped Luray Caverns and defined names of many formations
Source: Internet Archive, The Luray Cave (by S. J. Ammen, 1882)
early cave guides joked that a formation that appeared to be fish drying on a rack was made of "rockfish"
Source: Norfolk and Western Railroad, The Caverns of Luray (p.22)
soon after discovery, people began tapping out tunes on a stalactite formation in Luray Caverns known as the Organ
Source: Norfolk and Western Railroad, The Caverns of Luray (p.36)