Sinks of Gandy
|Sinks of Gandy|
Sinks of Gandy Creek, Upper (upstream) entrance
|Location||Osceola, West Virginia, USA|
|Length||8,114 feet (2,473 m)|
|Access||Private land; Access generally uncontrolled|
The Sinks of Gandy — also called the Sinks of Gandy Creek, or simply “The Sinks” — are a modestly celebrated cave and underground stream at Osceola in eastern Randolph County, West Virginia, USA. The Sinks are on private property within the Potomac Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest.
The Sinks are a natural tunnel accommodating Gandy Creek, a tributary of Dry Fork, for about 3,000 feet (915 meters) as it passes under a spur of Yokum Knob to reemerge on the opposite side of Randolph County Route 40 (Dry Fork Road). The southern (upstream) entrance to the Sinks, about 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 15 feet (4.6 m) high, is in a low ledge of limestone in a large depressed meadow. It consists of a simple longitudinal passage, from 4 to 35 feet (11 m) high, with a few minor side passages, not much apparent from the main passage. The main cave passage averages 40 to 60 feet (18 m) wide, but in some places up to 100 feet (30 m) wide. In some sections the stream occupies the entire floor of the passage, but in other sections it is confined to a narrow trench. The northern (downstream) entrance is offset about 100 feet (30 m) to the east of the stream channel, which exits under some boulders, making a second (wet) avenue of egress.
Gandy Creek — and thus the Sinks themselves — were named for Uriah Gandy (or Gandee) who settled in the area around 1781. Local settlers were certainly well aware of the Sinks by the 1830s. The earliest recorded reference to the Sinks may be a November 1833 letter sent by Randolph County physician Benjamin Dolbeare to the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society in Richmond. Dolbeare described several local caves including one as follows (with original spellings).
"Between, what is here called, the Aleghany and Rich Mountains, heads a branch of the dry fork a tributary of Cheat River, a ridge extends itself quiet across, from one mountain to the other, and this branc[h], after keeping its course about 3 miles runs under this ridge which [is] about ¾ of mile wide at its base, and very high."
The Sinks were noted locally as the site of the last known killings of elk by hunters in what is now Randolph County, probably about 1830 and 1835. (The last elk killed in all of West Virginia were shot around 1843 in nearby Canaan Valley.)
In March 1864, a minor incident of the Civil War occurred at the Sinks. Eight men of General Imboden’s Confederate command, who had been waylaying wagon trains in the north, crossed into neighboring Tucker County where they robbed a general store about 3 miles from the town of Saint George. They were pursued by a Union captain and lieutenant who closed on them the next day at the Sinks. Three rebels were killed in the ensuing shootout, two captured and the stolen property recovered.
The Sinks first came to widespread public notice by way of a tongue-in-cheek account of a pleasure expedition to the region published by David Hunter Strother in Harper’s Magazine in 1872 and 1873, although the visit upon which it is based probably occurred around 1854. This story, entitled "The Mountains", details the high jinx of a group of lively “Virginia gentlemen” who bumble through the then-virgin forest, annoying the sullen local “mountaineers”, in search of the “tunnel of Gandy”. This semi-fictionalized narrative treated the locals in rather xenophobic terms and recounted a lurid tale of cattle rustling, abduction and desperate escape in the cave and the surrounding area.
The Sinks again became the object of a popularization effort when West Virginia writer Jack Preble published a series of articles and booklets about them between the 1940s and the 1960s. Preble’s anecdotal and romanticizing approach was little more reliable than Strother’s at giving an accurate account of the cave. It was also during this period that the West Virginia Highway Department began, with an eye toward the tourist potential, to replace the designation of “Osceola” with that of “The Sinks” on its official roadmaps.
The Sinks were first formally surveyed and mapped by members of the National Speleological Society on 1 September 1940 resulting in a figure of 3,056 feet (931 m) of passage. The cave was resurveyed in 1990 resulting in 5,058 additional feet for a total of 8,114 feet (2,473 m) of passage. This makes the Sinks the 669th longest surveyed cave in the U.S. as of 10 March 2014
Both entrances to the Sinks are located on private land. The upstream entrance is owned by the Teter family and the downstream exit is owned by the Tingler family. (This same Teter family owned this land way back in 1854 when David Hunter Strother visited.) The location of the cave is not identified by any signage in the area.
The cave is relatively unforgiving to inexperienced visitors. although it has a straightforward layout, there are several sections that may require swimming in 45 degree F. water. It is recommended for only experienced cavers with the proper gear. "Following the floods of November 1985, the floor configuration at the upstream end of the cave changed drastically. Deep holes were scoured in the floor and where shallow pools had been before, deep pools, requiring swimming were found. The cave is dynamic and the floor configuration is subject to change with future storms."
Caves and Karst of Randolph County, West Virginia Speleological Survey Bulletin 13, Douglas M. Medville, Hazel E. Medville
- Davies, William E. (1958), Caverns of West Virginia, 2nd edition, Volume XIX(A) of the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, Beckley, West Virginia: Biggs-Johnson-Withrow, pp 312-314. Includes photo and 1940 map.
- Teter, Don (1977), Goin' Up Gandy: A History of the Dry Fork Region of Randolph and Tucker Counties, West Virginia; Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing Company.
- Rachal, William M. E., editor, “Early Records of the Virginia Historical Society, 1831-1833” in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1959; v. 67, pp 25-26. (Cited in Taylor, John Craft, “The Early History of Pendleton County [sic] Caves, 1760 to 1860”, pp 42-59 in Dasher, George R. (2001), Bulletin #15, The Caves and Karst of Pendleton County, West Virginia Speleological Survey; ISBN 0-9620636-2-2).
- Maxwell, Hu (1898). The History of Randolph County, West Virginia, From its Earliest Settlement to the Present, The Acme Publishing Company, Morgantown, W.Va. (Reprinted, McClain Printing Company, Parsons, W.Va., 1961). p. 299.
- Maxwell, Op. cit., pg 165
- Strother, David Hunter, "The Mountains", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 45:358-361, 812, August 1872; and 46:669-675, 1873.
- Eby, Jr., Cecil D. (1960), "Porte Crayon": The Life of David Hunter Strother, University of North Carolina Press.
- Preble, Jack, "Ibinthruthesinks Club", Pocahontas (W.Va.) Times, 19 Sept 1940 (Reprinted in Bulletin of the National Speleological Society, No. 3, pp 21-22).
- Preble, Jack, Land of Canaan: Plain Tales from the Mountains of West Virginia, Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing Company, 1st ed., 1960; 2nd ed., 1965, 3rd ed., 1971, pp 61-92. Reprints the relevant portion of Strother’s "The Mountains" from 1872-73.
- Preble, Jack, The Sinks of Gandy Creek, Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing Company, 1969 (26 page booklet).
- Medville, Douglas and Hazel E. Medville, compilers and editors, (1971), Bulletin #1, Caves of Randolph County, West Virginia Speleological Survey, pp 151-153
- Medville, Douglas M. and Hazel E. Medville, (1995), Bulletin #13, Caves and Karst of Randolph County, West Virginia Speleological Survey, pp 148-149.
- National Speleological Society, Geo2 Committee on Long and Deep Caves
- Owners noted by the West Virginia Highlands Conservatory
- McGrew, Wes, Netherworld News, September 1959.
- Perry, Clay, “Come Let’s Go Spelunking”, Saturday Evening Post, pp. 14–15, 36, 38; 12 July 1941.
- Sanford, Dick, The Potomac Caver, March 1969.