Dunbar Cave State Natural Area

Located outside of Clarksville, the Dunbar Cave State Natural Area contains 110 acres centered around a historic cave that has been a source of legend and recreation since the early history of Montgomery County.

Prehistoric peoples used the cave for habitation centuries before settlers came to Montgomery County. During the Mexican War saltpeter for gunpowder was mined at the cave. Dunbar Cave and a nearby mineral springs known as Idaho Springs attracted their first recreational developers in 1858, when a number of cabins were built. After the Civil War J. A. Tate acquired the springs and cave, constructed a two-story hotel, and marketed the spring water as a cure for all sorts of ailments. The place became a gathering point for dances, concerts, and fairs. An African American barber and musician, Jim Shelton, was a popular performer. Camp meetings also took place on the property at a site north of the hotel.

In 1931-32 a group of Clarksville businessmen acquired the old Idaho Springs and Dunbar Cave property and expanded the recreational facilities, especially at the renovated and expanded hotel, which now fronted an improved federal highway. The investors built a new dam that increased the lake size to approximately twenty acres. The new complex also included a bathhouse, tennis courts, cabins, and a modern concrete swimming pool. Throughout the depression, Dunbar Cave was a popular resort and hosted big band concerts including such famous acts as Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. After World War II country music star Roy Acuff acquired the property and added a golf course to its attractions as well as performing on a regular basis. However, after a promising postwar beginning, Dunbar Cave's popularity began to fade. The hotel was gone by 1950; the swimming pool closed in 1967. Six years later, in 1973, the State of Tennessee acquired the property and transformed it into a State Natural Area. It now provides hiking, cave tours, and lake activities throughout the year.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Dunbar Cave State Natural Area
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018