Cave-in-Rock State Park

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Cave-In-Rock State Park
Cave-in-rock IL.jpg
Map showing the location of Cave-In-Rock State Park
Map showing the location of Cave-In-Rock State Park
Map of the U.S. state of Illinois showing the location of Cave-In-Rock State Park
Location Hardin County, Illinois, U.S.
Nearest city Elizabethtown, Illinois
Coordinates 37°28′07″N 88°09′21″W / 37.46861°N 88.15583°W / 37.46861; -88.15583Coordinates: 37°28′07″N 88°09′21″W / 37.46861°N 88.15583°W / 37.46861; -88.15583
Area 204 acres (83 ha)
Established 1929
Governing body

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Location 0.5 mi N of the town of Cave-In-Rock, Cave-In-Rock, Illinois
Area less than one acre
Built 1861
Architectural style Other, natural cave
MPS Caught in the Middle: The Civil War on the Lower Ohio River MPS
NRHP Reference # 98000984[1]
Added to NRHP August 6, 1998

Cave-In-Rock State Park is an Illinois state park, on 240 acres, in the town of Cave-in-Rock, Hardin County, Illinois in the United States. The state park contains the historic Cave-in-Rock, a landmark of the Ohio River. It is maintained by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).[2]


Cave-in-rock, view on the Ohio (circa 1832): aquatint by Karl Bodmer from the book "Maximilian, Prince of Wied's Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834"

Cave-in-Rock was known and used for thousands of years by the Native Americans. The first European to discover the Cave was M. de Lery of France, who in 1729 mapped and named it "caverne dans Le Roc" (cf. supra). This name, translated directly into English, is the name the cave bears to this day.Other names for the cave include Rock-In-Cave, Rocking Cave, Rock-and-Cave, House of Nature, The Cave, Big Cave, and Murrell's Cave. The cave has been the main feature of Illinois' Cave-in-Rock State Park since 1929.[3]

During the 1790s and the first three decades of the 19th century, Cave-in-Rock reached the height of its notoriety. Flatboats carrying farm produce from Kentucky, Ohio, and southern Indiana began to float down the Ohio River towards the marketplace in New Orleans. As a known Ohio River landmark, the cave was a landmark of this dangerous journey. From approximately 1797 until 1799, the cave was a hideout for a notorious gang of bandits, headed by Samuel Mason, that preyed upon the lawless river commerce.[2] The outlaws Frank and Jesse James of the notorious James Gang also hid out in the cave, according to local lore, leaving their marks in the cave.

Later in the 19th century, Cave-in-Rock was tamed by settlers who formed the river town of Cave-in-Rock, Illinois near the cave. The town survives to this day. It became the site of a river ferry, adjacent to the state park, that crosses the Ohio River from Illinois Route 1 to Kentucky Route 91.[4]


Fluorite mineral specimen from Cave-in-Rock area

Cave-in-Rock's primary feature is a striking 55-foot (17 m)-wide riverside cave formed by wind and water erosion and cataclysmic effects of the 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes at Cave-in-Rock State Park 37°28′07″N 88°09′21″W / 37.46861°N 88.15583°W / 37.46861; -88.15583, just upriver from the village. The Cave-in-Rock was worn into the limestone bluffs of the Ohio River by floods, especially during the meltoff following the Wisconsin ice age. It is not a karstland cavern like Mammoth Cave in nearby Kentucky; it is an obvious, 55-foot-wide (17 m) tunnel leading a long distance into the bluff.[2]

1936 photograph of the Cave, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, looking similar to how it looked in the 18th and 19th centuries. Original photo caption: Cave at Cave-In-Rock, used by river pirates in 1790's


First Illinois state park[edit]

With the inauguration of steamboat traffic on the Ohio River in the 1810s, travelers such as artist Karl Bodmer bought tickets to steam up and down the river, and Cave-in-Rock has been a recognized landmark of river tourism ever since. In 1929, the state of Illinois acquired 64.5 acres of land, including the cave. Other small parcels of land were acquired later to form the current park. The state park, which stretches from the river's edge to the top of the adjacent 60-foot-tall (18 m) bluff, is maintained by IDNR for Ohio River access, camping, and hiking, including hikes to the historic cave.[2]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c d Joe McFarland, "The Hole in the River", Outdoor Illinois XVIII:11 (November 2010), pages 2-5.
  3. ^ "Cave-In-Rock - State Park". Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 
  4. ^ Illinois Atlas and Gazetteer. Freeport, Maine: DeLorme Mapping. 1991. ISBN 0-89933-213-7. 

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