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
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 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
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
References1. "History," Grand Caverns, http://www.grandcaverns.com/v.php?pg=60 (last checked July 14, 2014)
2. "Minutes of the Fall 2013 VAR Meeting," Virginia Region, National Speleological Society, September 28, 2013, http://www.varegion.org/var/theVar/varMeetMinutes/minutesFall2013.pdf (last checked July 14, 2014)
3. "Natural Features & Ecosystems," Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/cuga/naturescience/naturalfeaturesandecosystems.htm (last checked July 14, 2014)
4. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Massachusetts Historical Society, http://www.masshist.org/thomasjeffersonpapers/notes/ (last checked July 14, 2014)
5. "USA Longest Caves by State," compiled by Bob Gulden, June 17, 2014, http://www.caverbob.com/state.htm (last checked July 14, 2014)
6. "Unexpected beauty lies below surface at Luray Caverns," The Roanoke Times, August 3, 2014, http://www.roanoke.com/life/travel/unexpected-beauty-lies-below-surface-at-luray-caverns/article_981985b7-cb87-5bdf-8d04-14d56ac08d44.html; "Dixie Caverns still a hidden treasure," The Roanoke Times, July 27, 2014, http://www.roanoke.com/life/dixie-caverns-still-a-hidden-treasure/article_e5421086-7a81-563e-a57f-b91a770909ec.html (last checked August 3, 2014)
7. "Crystal Caverns at Hupp’s Hill Management Plan," Virginia Region, National Speleological Society, March 2011, http://www.varegion.org/var/theVar/varMeetMinutes/Crystal_Caverns_Draft_Management_Plan.pdf (last checked July 14, 2014)