Those Caving Croghans: Locust Grove visits Mammoth Cave

This is a very momentous year for the National Park Service–it’s the National Park Centennial! To celebrate this occasion, Locust Grove staff and volunteers took a tour of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky’s only National Park and the longest known cave system in the world. Mammoth Cave has a noteworthy connection to Locust Grove–Dr. John Croghan, the eldest son of William and Lucy Croghan, purchased Mammoth Cave in 1839 for $10,000, and retained possession of the cave until his death in January of 1849. The cave is an important part of the Croghan family history and legacy, and it was a treat to learn more about its history. Let’s retrace our steps and hit the highlights of the day!


We found our park!

Our first stop once we reached the park was a special presentation by Ranger Chuck DeCroix. Ranger Chuck not only reminded us of the National Park Centennial, but told us that Mammoth Cave would be celebrating its 75th Anniversary as a National Park on July 1, 2016! Mammoth Cave receives roughly 4,000-5,000 visitors per day, with an annual visitation of 650,000. Locust Grove’s own Del Marie V. is a Barren County native and a member of Friends of Mammoth Cave, and she and her family have been a part of preserving Mammoth Cave’s legacy since its inception as a National Park. Guided cave tours have been conducted for 200 years!

In the early 19th century, Mammoth Cave was valued for the presence of calcium nitrate, which was essential for the production of saltpeter. An early map of the cave known as the Eye Draught Map, produced in 1809, showed the location of the niter soil so useful to making saltpeter. Original copies of this map were in the collections of Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Benjamin Rush. In addition to being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Rush was also a prominent physician of the day, and Dr. John Croghan studied with him from 1809-1812. In fact, it has very recently been discovered that John Croghan first visited Mammoth Cave in 1815 while traveling on the Green River. Mammoth Cave researchers have just found his signature carved into the cave wall, dated February 26, 1815. Previously, the first Croghan family member to visit Mammoth Cave was thought to be Nicholas Croghan, who left a signature in candlesmoke in Gothic Avenue on May 7, 1825, barely a month before he died.

When Dr. John purchased Mammoth Cave on October 8, 1839 for $10,000, he bought the property from Franklin Gorin, an attorney who a year earlier had brought several slaves to the cave. One of these slaves was Stephen Bishop, who, according to Ranger Chuck, was one of the greatest explorers of Mammoth Cave of all time. Bishop and the other Mammoth Cave slaves were also purchased by Dr. John along with the Cave. Stephen Bishop was the first to cross the Bottomless Pit into previously unexplored parts of the cave, and served as a tour guide until his death in 1857. One of Bishop’s most notable contributions was a map of the Cave drawn from memory at Locust Grove during the winter of 1841-1842, which was the most complete map of the cave to date. His former owner Franklin Gorin said of him after his death that “his great talent was a perfect knowledge of man”, and Stephen Bishop’s legacy can still be felt at the Cave today.


A replica of Stephen Bishop’s map can be found in Dr. John Croghan’s office at Locust Grove.


When Dr. John purchased Mammoth Cave in 1839, he had high hopes for the tuberculosis treatment hospital he planned to open. Patients were housed in huts, of which two are still standing deep in the cave. In November of 1839, Dr. John wrote to his brother-in-law, General Thomas Jesup, of his plans for the cave, noting that “Owing to the uniformity of temperature throughout the year […] the dryness of the atmosphere and the continual purification thereof by the constant formation of salt Petre, I have no doubt there is no where to be found a spot so desirable for persons laboring under pulmonary affections […]” Unfortunately, the ten month experiment from the fall of 1842 into 1843 was a dismal failure, as none of his 15 patients improved and several died while undergoing treatment in the Cave. Nevertheless, the Croghan stamp is all over the Cave. There is a section called Croghan Hall and another called Clark’s Avenue, named for Dr. John and George Rogers Clark, respectively. Dr. John’s nieces and nephews inherited the cave along with his other property after his death from tuberculosis in 1849, and Serena’s Arbor bears the name of his niece, Serena Croghan, while Jesup’s Domes are individually named Lucy Ann and Julia for the daughters of his sister, Ann Croghan Jesup. 

During our cave tour, we were able to see two places of especial interest to fans of Locust Grove. One of our first stops was Gothic Avenue, where scores of visitors wrote their names in candlesmoke to mark their visit. One of these signatures was that of Nicholas Croghan, who visited in 1825. We  visited on June 18, and the next day, June 19, was the 214th birthday of Nicholas and his twin brother Charles. So naturall, we sang Happy Birthday to them in front of Nicholas’s signature!


Happy Birthday, Nicholas!

We also had the chance to visit the two remaining tuberculosis huts left over from Dr. John’s experimental hospital. This was a rather grim experience, as Ranger Chuck explained that visitors to the cave while patients were in residence described them as skeletons. I tried to take a picture of the huts, but the low light in the cave meant that my picture didn’t turn out so well. (You can see better images here and here.)


Actual photo taken by Hannah inside Mammoth Cave. Beautiful, right?

We denizens of Locust Grove spent almost two hours in Mammoth Cave, strolling down Gothic Avenue, admiring the various geological formations, and learning so much about the Cave that I’m sure I’ve forgotten something! It was incredible to think that the same Historic Entrance we used to enter and exit the Cave was used by Dr. John, Nicholas, Stephen Bishop, and thousands upon thousands of other visitors.


Heading down into the Cave by way of the Historic Entrance.

It was also just fun to spend the day together! We hope you’ll be able to join us for one of our day trips in the future!


We’re about to head down into the Cave! Can you spot George Rogers Clark in this photo?

All of us at Locust Grove are especially excited because it’s almost time for our favorite holiday–Independence Day! As is our tradition, admission to Locust Grove will be FREE on July 4 from 10-4:30pm, and will feature readings of the Declaration of Independence, period demonstrations, concessions by Sweet and Savory, and lots of 1816 celebratory flair! Come celebrate American Independence in 2016 by traveling back to 1816!

Yours in historical spelunking,


P.S. To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

You can also follow Locust Grove on the web by subscribing to the blog on the right, and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (We’re everywhere!)


This blog post is indebted to a presentation at Mammoth Cave to Locust Grove staff and volunteers by Ranger Chuck DeCroix on June 18, 2016.

Ashley Bowen-Murphy, “The Nation’s First Tuberculosis Hospital Was Built Inside a Cave.” Atlas Obscura, June 7, 2016.

Stacy Conradt, “John Croghan, the Man Who Built a TB Ward in a Cave.” Mental Floss, April 17, 2015.

Edward Forrest Frank, “Tuberculosis Hospital Remains in Mammoth Cave.” Black Guides of Mammoth Cave, October 22, 2013.

National Parks Service, “Physician, Heal Thyself.”

National Parks Traveler, “Mammoth Cave National Park Harbors More Than A Few Ghost Stories.” October 30, 2009.

Gwynne Tuell Potts and Samuel W. Thomas. George Rogers Clark and Locust Grove. Louisville: Historic Locust Grove, Inc, 2006. 


Recreating 1816: Costumed Interpreters at Locust Grove

It’s an exciting time of year here at Locust Grove, as we look forward to all the fun events coming up in 2016. Our intrepid volunteer cast of Costumed Interpreters are looking for a few good men and women to join the cast of Croghan and Clark family members, neighbors, and friends. Today, Amy L., the corps’ Theatrical Director who portrays Emilia Clark, is our guest blogger, presenting 10 Frequently Asked Questions About the First Person Interpreter Program. Take it away, Amy!

The 2015 Costumed Interpreter Corps at Christmastide. Photo courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.
#10 Are you hot?
It’s Kentucky in July. Next question.
#9 What is the First Person Interpreter program, anyway?
We are an amateur cast of volunteer performers who combine our love of interactive theater with a passion for history. First person interpreters are cast in the roles of members of the Croghan and Clark families as well as other notable Louisvillians with a connection to Locust Grove.
Interactive theater means that we are in character any time we are out and dressed on the property, but unlike going to a play, we are interacting with Locust Grove’s visitors. Most of what we do involves improvisational theater. The goal of this program is to bring Locust Grove alive the way it would have been in 1816; full of sounds, movement, and people!
Interpreters are present in the house and grounds of Locust Grove at many events such as Gardner’s Fair and Antiques Market. We are also able to take center stage on the Fourth of July and at Christmastide. Our goal is to continue integrating ourselves into Locust Grove’s programming- but to do that, we need volunteers!
Charles and Nicholas survey Locust Grove from the porch with their cousin, Eloise Bullitt, Summer 2015.
#8 Is there a script?
Many people ask us if we have a script. Since most of what we do is improvisational, in the strictest sense the answer is ‘no’, but that does not mean you are on your own or that we just ‘make everything up’.
The closest thing we have to a traditional script would be the wonderful transcriptions of the letters and other documents the Croghan and Clark families left behind. We study material culture and day to day life to present the frame that important historical events took place in.
Many interpreters also take on individual research projects on an aspect of material culture which interests them, such as painting, sewing, or games of the period.
During rehearsals and workshops, we practice taking this information and discussing it in a natural, conversational style. For example, since we interpret the year 1816, we spend a good deal of time talking about the process Indiana statehood as it unfolded throughout the year.
Gardners fair
Amy as Emilia Clarke speaks to guests to Locust Grove. Photo Courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.
#7 Are you wearing stays?
Yep! See #3
#6 How do I get involved?
Locust Grove will be holding auditions for the program at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 5th. If you absolutely cannot make that time but would like to participate, we can schedule another audition time for you. To set up an audition email Locust Grove’s Program Coordinator Brian Cushing at
After you have scheduled your audition we will send you a few monologues to choose from. These are taken from letters Written by members of the Croghan family. At your audition, you will read the monologue of your choice.
There will also be an improvisational component to your audition. We will ask you to pretend that you are an interpreter portraying a member of the Croghan family, and a member of the audition panel will pretend to be a Locust Grove guest who asks you questions. This is NOT a history test- we just want to see if you are comfortable interacting with visitors in an improvisational environment.
Since we are recreating 1816 at Locust Grove, we are limited to a set cast list based on who we know was in Louisville at the time. As with any audition process, we cannot guarantee anyone a place in the cast.
Charles and William at chess
Noah H. as Charles Croghan and Sam L. as William Croghan, Jr. face off in a game of checkers. Photo courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.
#5 Do I have to have a background in theater?
No! Many of our performers have extensive amateur resumes, while others had never acted before joining the cast. Some of them have joined the program in order to push themselves past their comfort zone by doing something new.
#4 What happens if I am cast?
Then grasshopper, your training begins.
Before anyone performs as an interpreter, they must complete a series of workshops. These are designed to prepare you to discuss historical events and daily life in 1816 Louisville. All interpreters are required to complete six workshops per year, and new participants must complete workshops on the history of the home, clothing of the period, and physical characterization and character development before they can perform at Locust Grove.
We actually offer far more than 6 workshops per year, so cast members with different schedules have the opportunity to fulfill these requirements. You will also have to have approved clothing to venture out in.
Amy works with Jocelyn and Noah H. during a CI workshop.
#3 Are costumes provided, or will I have to make my own?
All clothing worn in this program has to pass approval by the Costume Director. Since we are a living museum display, our clothing has to meet the same standards as any static display in the house.
Most first person interpreters provide all of their own costumes. We are able to provide some costuming for first year participants to help you get started, though this is limited to what is available in the Locust Grove stash and available on a first come, first serve, basis.
We want to empower our volunteers to take ownership of their impression and clothing is a significant buy-in that accomplishes this.
Brian Cushing and Brandon V. work on a piece for the reenactment of the 1822 wedding Ann Croghan to General Thomas Jesup.
#2 Do I need to know how to sew?
No! We are also committed to helping our folks learn to be self-sufficient and create their own clothing. We currently have several workshops scheduled on the clothing of the period and how to create it.
For those of you who choose to ‘sew with your wallet’, we will help you find an approved tailor to work with.
Mia S. works on a wardrobe piece.
#1 And the most important thing to know about this program- We work hard, and we play hard!
We recognize that we are asking a lot of our volunteer interpreters, so possibly the most amazing thing about this program is how consistently our cast continues to raise the bar and surpass even our expectations.
Being a part of this program really is an amazing rush, and at the end of the day, even if we are tired and our feet hurt, none of us would trade one second for a quiet day at home.
such silliness

Such silliness! Photo courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.

Thanks so much, Amy! Check here for the full audition notice, check us out on Facebook, or contact Brian Cushing at Break a leg, everyone!
Theatrically yours,

The Curious Case of Mr. Collins

Here at Locust Grove, we have an extensive research library for the use of our staff, volunteers, and docents, so everyone can continue to learn about the Croghan and Clark families, the history of the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky, and everything about life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We are always growing our knowledge to better serve our visitors and answer questions, whether someone asks what herbs were planted in the kitchen garden to the best way to cure meats in the smokehouse. Our docents, to a man (and woman!) are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable individuals, and our corps of Costumed Interpreters volunteer copious amounts of time and endless resources to bring our family and their friends and neighbors to life.  Because we are always engaged in research, we often discover new and surprising things about Locust Grove.

Heather H., a docent, master photographer, and the queen of historical pastimes, works with our Costumed Interpreters as a plainclothes handler, and conducts a great deal of primary source research to enhance our interpreters’ knowledge of their characters’ lives. Heather has “a great fondness for historic obituaries” and states that she has “been working on locating obits and death notices for everyone that is portrayed by the costumed interpreter cast. I came across Mr. Collins when I was working on the notices for the Croghans.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Mr. Collins Who? Surely you must mean Mr. Clark or Mr. Croghan.” Mr. Collins is certainly not a name we hear around Locust Grove unless there’s a meeting of the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society in session.


Hugh Thomson, c. 1894

This Mr. Collins, however, had not walked right out of the pages of Pride and Prejudice and onto the porch at Locust Grove. Heather had discovered the obituary below of a Mr. John Collins, who has a curious relationship to Locust Grove.

John Collins obit

Published in the National Advocate (New York, New York) and also ran in the Long Island Star, the Connecticut Courant, the New York Daily Advertiser, and the Democratic Press. 

“At the residence of Maj. William Croghan, Locust Grove, on the 9th of January, mr. JOHN COLLINS, aged 102, a native of New Jersey.

The deceased had lived in the family of Major Croghan for the last 27 years, and has uniformly enjoyed remarkable good health; he affirmed before his death that he never, in the course of his life, been blooded or taken a single potion of physic. What was remarkable in the deceased, was, that he considered everything his own, and would frequently threaten to dispossess merchants in Louisville of their goods unless they kept their accounts uniform and correct, but in other respects was perfectly sane.”

WHOA. This Mr. Collins sounds like quite a character, and he has quickly become a favorite of the denizens of Locust Grove. Other death notices and obituaries only note his age, place of residence, and the date of his death, but we are nonetheless fascinated by his existence. Docent and historian Lynn R. remarks, “It’s just the most perfect story. Heather deserves extra cookies for finding him.” (I agree!)

No research has been discovered to support the idea that Mr. Collins was a blood relative of the Croghans, but it seems that he was a long-time part member of the household. According to Heather, our manuscript collection includes only one mention of a Mr. Collins in a letter written by William Croghan, Sr. in 1796:

“There are no surveys in either offices in Reynolds name, from the Situation of those Warrants & entries you should have got them Cheap from Mr. Reynolds. In my last letter to you I informed you that you omited one of your Warrants No 3580 for 2666 ⅔ are in the power you sent Mr. Collins to convey to me or any person I might direct, this warrant is the principal one, the (__) under being but five Warrants of 100 Acres each. If you intend letting me have it please to send a power to convey it by the bearer Mr. John. Gwathmey whom I expect will shortly return to this Country. I received the 100 acres by Mr. Sheppard for which shall credit your acct. I am dear sir. Your most humble Servt. W. Croghan”


William! Tell us more about your buddy!

The 1810 census includes three white males over the age of 45 living at Locust Grove. These men are most likely William Croghan, George Rogers Clark, and John Collins. Lynn Renau believes that Mr. Collins may have witnessed some of William Croghan’s legal transactions and did some recording keeping as well, as not all of the family accounts are in William Croghan’s hand. Lynn and Heather’s working theory is that some of these accounts could have been the work of John Collins, who may have been a clerk for the Croghans. We have no records of John Collins’ burial, and there is no record that John Collins’ grave was removed to Cave Hill Cemetery with the rest of the Croghans, so it is likely that he remains here at Locust Grove in the original family cemetery.


Where are you, Mr. Collins?

Heather notes that “I have no doubt there’s documentation floating around out there to help us fill in his story. It’s just a matter of finding the time to look for them. I do find it interesting that this man lived with the family for years and appears to have been a long time business partner of William Croghan’s, yet he is only mentioned in that one family letter […] I can’t wait to learn more about him when I have the time.”

As soon as we know more about Mr. Collins, we’ll be sure to update you all! Until then, we’re looking for volunteers to profile on this blog! Our volunteers are incredible, and they deserve the spotlight! If you’d like to be profiled, fill out the form located here. Thank you for all that you do!

We also want to hear from everyone who has ever visited Locust Grove, toured the house and grounds, followed us on social media, attended one of our programs and events, or even thought about Locust Grove! You can help us out by taking our quick survey here. Your thoughts really are  important to us as we look to the future of Locust Grove!

And don’t forget–the Spring Used Book Sale is March 4-6! Thousands of books are ready to make new homes on your shelves. We can’t wait to see you!



With sincere good wishes,