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New Cathedral Caverns Welcome Center Opens
December 04, 2003
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the opening of the new
“This personifies what is so great about
Cathedral Caverns is hidden beneath Gunter’s Mountain in northeast
“This is the best thing to happen so far,” said Park Manager Danny Lewis. “We’re expecting it to bring in a lot more people.”
Also attending the ceremony were Conservation Commissioner M. Barnett Lawley; Mark Easterwood, Director of the Alabama State Parks Division; former Conservation Commissioner James D. Martin; Lee Sentell, Director of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel; members of the Marshall County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and other key supporters of the development of
Cathedral Caverns was formed over thousands of years by rainwater soaking into the ground eventually forming an underground stream that over time eroded out the limestone rock to form the giant caverns. Cathedral Caverns has the world’s largest cave opening – 25 feet tall and 128 feet wide, and is home to the world’s largest stalagmite, Goliath – 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference.
In 1952, 29-year-old Jay Gurley, who worked at Redstone Arsenal, “rediscovered” the cave. He wanted everyone to see, appreciate and enjoy this great natural wonder, so in 1953, he began exploring the darkness of the caverns. It was opened to the public in 1959.
The Gurleys maintained the cave as a tourist attraction for many years, but various difficulties forced its closing. After purchase by the State, a federal grant was awarded in 1993 to fund the necessary work to assure the cave’s reopening. Restoration work began in 1995. That same year, Cathedral Caverns provided the cave setting for the Disney Studios film “Tom & Huck.” Unfortunately, Jay Gurley did not live to see the finished product. He died in May of 1996.
An archeological excavation in the mouth of the cave in 1988 by the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University discovered artifacts of early inhabitants including arrow heads, large spear points, drills, knives, hide scrapers, pottery shards, and animal bones indicating that the cave was a gathering place for early inhabitants of Alabama dating back to the archaic period in 6000 B.C.
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