Meramec Caverns

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Meramec Caverns
Location Stanton, Missouri
Length 4.6 miles (7.4 km)
Discovery Pre-Columbian; extended system in 1933
Geology Limestone

Meramec Caverns is the collective name for a 4.6-mile (7.4 km) cavern system in the Ozarks, near Stanton, Missouri.[1] The caverns were formed from the erosion of large limestone deposits over millions of years. Pre-Columbian Native American artifacts have been found in the caverns. Currently the cavern system is a tourist attraction, with more than fifty billboards along Interstate 44[2] and is considered one of the primary attractions along former U.S. Highway 66.[3][4] Meramec Caverns is the most-visited cave in Missouri with some 150,000 visitors annually.[5] Meramec Caverns is ranked #178 on's USA Long Cave list.[1]


The Meramec Caverns have existed for the past 400 million years,[6] slowly forming through deposits of limestone.[7] In centuries past, Native Americans used the cavern system for shelter. The first cave west of the Mississippi River to be explored by Europeans, it was first visited in 1722 by a French miner.[5]

During the 18th century, the cave was used for extracting saltpeter for the manufacture of gunpowder.[8] In the Civil War era, the Union Army used the caves as a saltpeter plant,[7] but the plant was discovered and destroyed by Confederate guerrillas, likely including the future infamous outlaw Jesse James.[9] According to local legend, James and his brother and partner in crime Frank used the caves as a hideout in the 1870s. However, there is scant historical evidence to support this tradition.[4][10] One legend in particular claims that a sheriff tracking the Jameses sat in front of the cave, waiting for Jesse and his gang to emerge; however, they had found another exit.[11]

In 1933, the extended cave system was discovered, revealing the present 4.6 miles (7.4 km), and was introduced to the public as a tourist attraction in 1935 by Lester B. Dill, who invented the bumper sticker as a means of promoting the caverns.[4][8]

In 1960, Meramec Caverns rented billboard space in the caverns.[12] The owners claimed this was the only underground billboard in the world. In midsummer of 1972, Meramec Caverns provided the cave settings for Tom Sawyer, a musical film which was released to theaters that following year. In the 1998 movie Deep Impact (film) a reference is made to the limestone caves of Missouri as the location of the ARC shelter.


  1. ^ a b Gulden, Bob (2013-06-01). "USA Long Caves". 
  2. ^ Lukas, Paul (2004-05-01). "Journey to the Center of the Earth Well, not quite--but for a deeply satisfying vacation experience, try touring a cave". Money Magazine. 
  3. ^ Hill, Geoff (2000-05-06). "Celebrating Easter the Meramec way; Follow Geoff Hill's adventures as he travels Route 66 on a Harley". The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland). 
  4. ^ a b c Jensen, Jamie. "Route 66: Meramec Caverns". Road Trip USA. 
  5. ^ a b Selbert, Pamela (2006-10-29). "A world of underground wonders in Missouri". Chicago Tribune. 
  6. ^ Farrow, Connie (2001-12-16). "Missouri shows its past from a hole in the ground". Philadelphia Inquirer. p. L09. 
  7. ^ a b "Meramec Caverns". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 2007-05-24. p. 60. An hour's drive from St. Louis down Interstate 44, Meramec Caverns packages 400 million years of history and science into hour-long tours of five layers of underground caverns. It's Missouri's largest show cave. 
  8. ^ a b Andrews, Dale C (2013-06-18). "Jesse James and Meramec Caverns". Route 66. Washington: SleuthSayers. 
  9. ^ Ramesh, M. (2002-12-16). "The beginning of another discovery trail". Asia Africa Intelligence Wire. 
  10. ^ "Meramec Caverns". Ada Evening News. 1959-08-07. Meramec Caverns in Stanton Mo., was outlaw Jesse James hideout in the 1870s. 
  11. ^ "Rewriting An Outlaw Legend". Daily News of Los Angeles. 1986-06-25. 
  12. ^ Alden, Robert (1960-08-04). "Advertising: Competitive Fight Can Misfire". New York Times. p. 28. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°14′29″N 91°05′33″W / 38.24127°N 91.09237°W / 38.24127; -91.09237