UPDATED April 11: the date of 1942 added to reflect the Allied forces discovering the Nazis using saltpeter to make heavy water for nuclear bombs in Norway.
1740- Caves in the western portion of Virgina are mined for saltpeter, also known as nitre, a crucial ingredient in gunpowder
1765-1783 and 1812-1815- The American Revolution and War of 1812. The saltpeter caves in Virginia continue to be a valuable source of nitre needed for the war efforts
1815-1860- Consumption of western Virginia nitre increased so much the caves could no longer keep up: the state had to import nitre to satisfy the demand
1861-1865- The Civil War. If nitre production was going to be profitable for Virginia and the Confederacy in the war effort, they had to find more saltpeter caves and invest capital in their development. The Confederacy established the Nitre Corps (which became the Nitre and Mining Bureau) to this effect. Their efforts were successful; Virginia nitre production easily kept up with the military demands.
–NOTE: Because of their deep underground location, the scattered saltpeter caves were valued by the Confederate military, as they proved to be an elusive target for enemy forces. (1. Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy)
1920- Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate TN purchases Cudjo’s Caverns (one of the Virginia saltpeter caves) from private owners, including the caves known as Soldiers Cave and King Solomon’s Cave.
Although originally separate caves, these two caves “were connected by a passageway and a larger main entrance by blasting and tunneling” although the date this connection was accomplished is unknown. We do know the caves remained separate at least as late as 1937. (2. Thacker, 212)
1939- World War II begins
1940- Congress authorizes the acquisition of land in the Cumberland Gap area for Cumberland Gap National Park, only after language is omitted from the Act calling it a “recreational area” (3)
1941- Pearl Harbor attacked, the United States enters WWII
1942-Allied Forces discover a Nazi-occupied Norwegian hydroelectric plant that also makes fertilizer out of saltpeter. They discover the real purpose of this plant: the production of heavy water, an essential component of nuclear weapons.
-the start of the Cold War
-the title to Cudjo’s Cave (also known as Saltpeter Cave) is signed over to the state of Virginia and eventually transferred to the federal Park. Originally, the saltpeter cave was a separate holding within the National Park.
1954- a Masonic lodge, Martin’s Station Lodge No. 188 opens 1000 feet below Cumberland Mountain in Cudjo’s Cave. 345 Masons are present for the conferring of a Master Mason degree. (4)
1955- Although acquired in 1940, the Park was not opened to the public until 15 years later in 1955. (5)
1972- in November, hijackers threaten to crash plane into the Oak Ridge nuclear complex in Tennessee (6)
1973- Congress tells the National Park to construct the tunnels under Cumberland Gap (5)
1990 to 1991- The Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield) begins, leading to Operation Desert Storm
– Construction of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel begins (5)
1992- the federal government closes Cudjo’s Caverns to the public indefinitely
1996- the Cumberland Gap Tunnel opens. The road to Cudjo’s Cave and over Cumberland Gap is removed soon after.(5)
It is 2015, and only recently did the Park start allowing very limited access to Cudjo’s Cave. See my post here about Cudjo’s Cave.
The federal government has had a keen interest in the saltpeter caves of western Virginia (including Cudjo’s Cave) from the 1700’s. As our government becomes less transparent, it’s hard to ignore the coincidental timing of Congress to act on the development of these caves, the Cumberland Gap area and the Cumberland Gap Tunnel in relation to world events, specifically military conflicts.
Coincidence? Or conspiracy?
1. Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy; http://dmme.virginia.gov/dgmr/civilwar_niter.shtml
2. Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia; Thacker, Larry. 2007
3. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park; Luckett, William. 1964
4. “York Lodge No. 22 Bulletin”; 2010
5. “Cumberland Gap Tunnel marks fifteenth anniversary”; Simmons, Morgon. 2011 http://www.knoxnews.com/news/nation-and-world/cumberland-gap-tunnel-marks-15th-anniversary
6. “Convicted hijacker shares story; details 1972 threat to Oak Ridge”; Welsch, Anthony. 2011 http://archive.wbir.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=170845