In the summer of 1941, Missouri was in the midst of a rather severe drought. A drought so intense, it not only dropped the rivers and streams above ground, but the water table itself also depleted. At that time, the main level of Meramec Caverns seemed to ‘dead end’ at a wall with a small pool of water spilling out below. With the drop of the water table, the pool of water below the wall receded nearly six inches and allowed a cool, breeze to push into the cave between the wall’s bottom and top of the water. Les Dill was alerted of this change by his cave guides, and, being the adventurous man he was, Dill elected to go under the wall, through the water, and see what was on the other side. Once past the wall, Les was opened to yet another large area of branching networks…even more cave. It was here, too, Les found the artifacts traceable to the infamous Jesse James and the cave was dubbed ‘Jesse James Hideout’. (from Meramec Caverns website)
The 1890’s brought a new era of human interaction to the cave. During that time, locals from Stanton, MO would hold ‘cave parties’ during summer months to avoid the extreme heat. Meramec Caverns was especially popular for these types of events, as a very large room lie just 300 feet inside the cave entrance. The room was large enough to accommodate big crowds, as well as a 50 foot by 50 foot dance floor in the center. This earned the room the nickname of the ‘Ballroom’. Meramec Caverns, then known as Saltpeter Cave, was purchased in 1898 by Charles Ruepple, and he headed a dance committee along with other local men from Stanton. Dancing continued through the 1890’s and spilled over into 1900, but it would be another 33 years before the most significant event in the cave’s history. (from Meramec Caverns website)
Very hard to take pictures in a cave! As we progressed on the tour the lights behind us were shut off so we had to keep up with the “good lighting” to get pictures!. Its hard to even tell what color some of the rocks actually were because of the warmth of the light.
Lester Benton Dill, born in 1898, spent the majority of his youth exploring caves in the Meramec River Valley. Les began his cave promotion days with a small cave in Meramec State Park, known as Fisher’s Cave. Though Fisher’s Cave was exciting to work with, Les wanted more and in 1933 he approached Charles Ruepple about the prospect of purchasing his cave. Mr. Dill’s sole interest in the cave was to develop it into a show cave and allow it to be entertainment for the public. Charles was reluctant at first, but soon agreed to sell the cave to Les. Les changed the name from Saltpeter Cave to Meramec Caverns and quickly began promoting and offering cave tours to the public. (from Meramec Caverns website)
Meramec Caverns is still owned by descendants of the Dill family and it definitely has a unique “throw-back” feel to it.
They also had a few shops and a zip line activity, but we were most interested in the cave…
After the discovery of 1941 and the addition of an opened lower level room in 1947, uncovering miles of new passages and spectacular views, Meramec Caverns was complete. Meramec Caverns soon became known far and wide through signs plastered along the roads to attract tourist to the Caverns. Advertisements for the Caverns were also painted on barns in 14 states. Dill also pioneered the use of bumper stickers, then called bumper signs because the vinyl and adhesive used to attach stickers to cars had not yet been developed. While visitors toured the cave, Dill would have “bumper sign boys” tie the Meramec Caverns bumper signs on their cars giving him free advertising and visitors a free souvenir. (from Meramec Caverns website)
Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the St. Louis area!