The NSS Bulletin - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 38 Number 3: 41-52 - July 1976

A publication of the National Speleological Society

The Greenbrier Caverns
John M. Rutherford and Robert H. Handley


The Greenbrier Caverns is the largest-known American cave east of the Central Kentucky Karst. Modern-day exploration of the cave began in the very late forties, when a small group from Charleston, West Virginia headed by Bob Handley became interested in "Organ-Hedricks" Cave. One discovery followed another in rapid succession. By 1958, the Greenbrier Caverns was known to have seven interconnected entrances and, with recent reports of over 44 miles of mapped passages and two more entrances, the system is surely among the 10 largest caves known in the world. The cave has a long history, dating back to the days of President Jefferson. Two distinctly different types of Saltpeter workings are present in the cave. The more recent and extensive of the two is of Civil War age, or older. Collection of biological specimens from the system began in the thirties and a diverse fauna is known today. The cave is the type locality for four of the 14 troglobitic species known to occurr in it. Bone collections from three different areas of the cave include (extinct) Pleistocene nine-banded armadillo, mastodon, Jefferson's ground sloth, and peccary. Geologically, the cave is very complex and the effects on cavern development of a variety of geologic factors can be seen. Joint control, bedding plane control, tilted and folded strata, numerous faults and thrust planes, and the contact between the Greenbrier limestone and the underlying Maccrady shale are among the geologic factors illustrated. The hydrology of the cave is correspondingly complex and consists of two (or three) parallel drainage lines developed along a structurally complex syncline.

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