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It would require perhaps several volumes to give a minute description of all the natural and interesting curiosities of our country. The inquisitive individual can scarcely travel more than a mile or two in any direction among our mountains, but some sublime and grand work of nature presents itself to the eye, which excites his wonder and admiration. The author must therefore content himself with a brief description of a comparatively few of the most remarkable. He will commence his narrative with Harpers-Ferry. This wonderful work of nature has been so accurately described by Mr. Jefferson that it is deemed unnecessary to give a detailed description of it. Suffice it to say, that no stranger can look at the passage of the waters of the Potomac and Shenandoah, rushing through the yawning gap of the mountain, without feeling awe at the grandeur and sublimity of the scene, and ready to prostrate himself in adoration before that omnipotent God whose almighty arm hath made all things according to his own wisdom and power.
It is much to be regretted that a Capt. Henry, during the administration of the elder Adams in 1799, when what was called the provisional army was raising, and a part of which was stationed at Harpers-Ferry, greatly injured one among the most interesting curiosities of this place. A rock of extraordinary shape and of considerable size stands on the brink of a high hill, on the south side of the tung or point of land immediately in the fork of the river. The apex of this rock was a broad flat table, supported on a pivot, on which Mr. Jefferson, during his visit to this place, inscribed his name, from whence it took the name of Jefferson's rock. The
years 1798 and 1799 were a period of extraordinary political excitement. The two great political
parties, federal and democratic, of our country, were at this period completely organized, and an interesting struggle for which party should have the ascendency was carried on. This same Capt. Henry, whether actuated by the same motive which impelled the Macedonian youth to murder Philip his king, or whether he hoped to acquire popularity with his party, (he calling himself a federalist), or whether from motives purely hostile towards Mr. Jefferson and all the democratic party, placed himself at the head of a band of soldiers, and with the aid of his myrmidons hurled off the apex of this rock, thus wantonly, and to say the least, unwisely destroying the greatest beauty of this extraordinary work of nature. By this illiberal and unwise act Capt. Henry has "condemned his name to everlasting fame."
Caves in the county of Jefferson.—About seven or eight miles above Harpers-Ferry, on the west side of the Shenandoah, nearly opposite the Shannondale springs, from a quarter to a half mile from the river, a limestone cave has been discovered, which contains several beautiful incrustations or stalactites formed from the filtration of the water.
Near Mecklenburg (Shepherdstown) another cave has been found, out of which considerable quantities of hydraulic limestone is taken, and when calcined or reduced to lime, is found to make a cement little if any inferior to plaster of paris. Out of this cave a concreted limestone was taken, which the author saw in the possession of Dr. Boteler of Shepherdstown, which at first view presents to the eye, in shape, a striking resemblance to that of a fish of considerable size. A smaller one was found at the same time, which has a strong resemblance to a mink. Several intelligent individuals were induced to believe they were genuine petrifactions.
Caves in the county of Frederick. In the county of Frederick are to be seen five or six of those caves. Zane's cave, now on the lands owned by the heirs of the late Maj. James Bean, is the one described by the late Mr. Jefferson in his “Notes on Virginia.” This
carethe author partially explored about eighteen months ago, but found it too fatiguing to pursue his examination to any considerable extent. The natural beauty of this place has of late years been greatly injured by the smoke from the numerous pine torches used to light it. All the incrustations and spars are greatly darkened, giving the cave a somber and dull appearance. The author was informed, on his visit to this place, that Maj. Bean, shortly before his death, cut out several of the spars, reduced them to lime, sprinkled it over some of his growing crops, and found that it produced all the effects of gypsum,
On the lands late the residence of Capt. Edward McGuire, deceased, is another cave of some considerable extent; but its incrustations and spars are of a muddy yellowish color, and not considered a very interesting curiosity.
Adjoining the lands of Mr. James Way, the former residence of the late Col. C. M. Thruston, an extensive cave of very singular and curious formation was discovered many years ago. On exploring it with the aid of a pocket compass, the needle was found running to eve
ry part of it.
On the east side of the Shenandoah river, some two or three miles below Berry's ferry, at the base of the Blue ridge, a cave of considerable extent has been discovered, containing several curiosities. About two miles below this cave, on the same side of the river, is to be seen what was anciently called Redman's fishery. At the base of a rock a large subterraneous stream of water is discharged into the river. At the approach of winter myriads of fish make their way into this subterraneous stream, and take up their winter quarters. In the spring they return into the river. By placing a fish basket in the mouth of the cavern, great quantities of fine fresh water fish are taken, both in the autumn and spring of the year. The author recollects being at this place upwards of fifty years ago, just after Mr. Redman had taken up his fish basket, and can safely affirm, that he drew out of the water from two to three bushels of fish at a single haul.
On Crooked run, near Bethel meeting house, on the lands now owned by Mr. Stephen Grubb, is a limestone cave, which the author has more than once been in. It does not exceed one hundred yards in length, and is remarkable only for its production of saltpetre, and preserving fresh meats in hot weather.
The Panther cave on the north bank of Cedar creek, owned by Maj. Isaac Hite, about a half or three fourthg of a mile west of the great highway from Winchester to Staunton, is a remarkable curiosity. Nature has here formed a most beautiful and solid upright wall of gray limestone rock, of about one hundred yards in length, near the west end of which is to be seen an elegant arch, of about sixty feet in front, ten or twelve feet high in the center, and extending twenty-five or thirty feet under the body of the wall. There are two circular apertures running into the body of the rock from the arch, one about twelve inches in diameter, the other somewhat smaller. Whether these openings do or do not lead into large apartments or caverns in the body of the rock, is not and probably never will be known. Tradition relates that at the early settlement of the country this place was known to be the hant and habitation of the panther, from which it derives its name.
We have two natural wells in this county; one at what is called the Dry marsh, a drain of the Opequon, about two miles east of the creek, not more than a quarter of a mile north of the road leading from Winchester to Berryville. This natural well in dry seasons furnishes several contiguous families with water. It is formed by a natural circular opening in an apparently solid limestone rock. Its walls are undulating, and in times of dry seasons the water sinks some sixteen or eighteen feet below the surface, but at all times furnishes abundant supplies. In the winter, no matter how great the degree of cold, small fish are frequently drawn up with the water from the well. In times of freshets, the water rises above the surface, and discharges a most beautiful current for several weeks at a time. Tradition relates that this well was discovered at the first settlement of the neighborhood.
The other natural well is the one described by Mr. Jefferson. This natural curiosity first made its appearance on the breaking up of the hard winter of 1779-80. All the old people of our country doubtless recollect the great falls of snow and severity of this remarkable winter. The author was born, and lived with his father's family until he was about thirteen years of age, within one and a half miles of this natural well. The land at that period was owned by the late Col. Fielding Lewis, of Fredericksburg, Va., but is now the property of the heirs of the late Mr. Thomas Castleman, in the neighborhood of Berryville. Nature had here formed a circular sink of a depth of some fourteen or fifteen feet, and fifty or sixty feet in diameter at the surface. In the spring of the year 1780, the earth at the bottom of this sink suddenly gave way and fell into the cavity below, forming a circular aperture about the ordinary circumference of a common artificial well. It was soon discovered that a subterraneous stream of water passed under the bottom. There being no artificial or natural means to prevent the earth immediately about the well from falling in, the aperture is greatly enlarged, forming a sloping bank, by which a man on foot can easily descend within eight or ten feet of the water. The current of water is quite perceptible to the eye. The whole depth of the cavity is thirty or thirty-five feet.
Caves in the county of Shenandoah.— Within two or three miles of Woodstock, on the lands of William Payne, Esq. is an extensive cavern, which it is said has never yet been explored to its termination. It contains many curious incrustations, stalactites, &c. From the mouth of this cavern, a constant current of cold air is discharged, and the cavern is used by its owners as a place to preserve their fresh meals in the hottest seasons
of the year.