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.

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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. 


“Teach me, and I remember”: The Croghan Children’s Education

With the onset of fall here at Locust Grove, we are delighted to welcome school groups on a weekly basis to tour the house and grounds and learn about work and play in the late 1790s and early 1800s. All these students exploring Locust Grove for the first time got me thinking about the children This got me thinking about the education of the Croghan children during their time here at Locust Grove. The Croghans had eight children: John, George, William Jr., Ann, Eliza, Charles, Nicholas, and Edmund. All eight started their education at home, likely in the Grand Parlor on the second floor of the house. Around the age of ten or twelve, depending on the child, they were sent away to school. John and George attended Dr. Priestley’s Seminary in Danville, KY, William, Jr. attended Transylvania College and Dickinson College, the twins Charles and Nicholas attend St. Thomas College near Springfield, KY, and Edmund attended Jefferson Seminary. For a short period of time, Ann and Eliza studied at Louisa Keats’ Domestic Academy, but Eliza became homesick and they continued their education at home with their parents and cousin Emelia Clarke.

Dr. John Croghan and his brother William Jr. relax on the porch.

Dr. John Croghan and his brother William Jr. relax on the porch.

Of the eight siblings, John became a physician, George a soldier, and William Jr. practiced law, while Ann and Eliza made advantageous marriages. Sadly, Charles, Nicholas, and Edmund died before taking up an occupation. Charles actually died of tuberculosis in Paris in 1832 at the age of 30, attended by his brother Dr. John. All of the brothers left behind many letters between themselves and their parents, letters which reveal close and loving relationship between family members. Some of my favorites written during the brothers’ school days are excerpted below. Please enjoy!

John Croghan to Majr. William Croghan, Danville April 27th 1807

Dear Father,

          Being considerably engaged at present in my scholastic pursuits, and having a very conspicuous office to fill in the Sophomore society, the supposition must be that I am bereft of the pleasure of writing to you as often as I here to fore have done.

          In your last letter to me I observe that you intend taking my Brother [George] & myself from this Seminary as soon as our year will expire with Mr Priestley (the termination of which will be the first of June) and then to send us to one of the Eastern Colleges.  It is my wish to go to some University for the further refinement of my mental improvements, and if it were left to my choice I should prefer that of Cambridge [Harvard College], which on account of its Learned professors, Library, and Apparatus is in higher repute than any University in the United States.  As to the College at Baltimore I am in hopes you have no thoughts of sending us to for I consider this as a Seminary of learning far superior to it.  The studies which I am at present engaged are Geography, Homer (a Greek author) Terence, and Arithmetic occasionally, and Rhetoric – I have completed the study of Euclid, and Trigonometry.  I have nothing more to relate to you at present without entering on the borders of politics.

          I was extremely sorry that I could not accompany my Brother to Jefferson, but it was utterly impossible.  I had made frequent application for Horses, but was as often refused; numbers of the students were detained here on this account.  Give my respects to Mama and Family, and likewise to Uncle George Clark whenever you happen to see him; he is an Uncle for whom on account of his noble, independent, and patriotic spirit, on account of the services he has rendered his Country, and the distinguished manner in which he has behaved in the field of Wars I am very partial to.  He possessed truly a magnanimous Mind!  Adieu for the present my dear Father may the light of Heaven continue to shine around you.

                                                                      John Croghan

Many defects will occur throughout tis letter which William may point out –

Dr. John Croghan as he appeared in life.

Dr. John Croghan as he appeared in life.

 John Croghan to John O’Fallon, Locust grove, June 27th 1807

Dear John

          … the very unfortunate accident which has befallen my Brother Nicholas, … During this last storm which happened previous to my arrival here a tree was blown down not far distant from my Fathers house, on one of the limbs of which he has ascended, and having fallen from there, he struck his Eye on a stick which stood erect from the ground, which penetrated so deeply that it at once demolished both the Retina and Iris of the Eye.  We have the sight of his Eye in a wine glass … I shall therefore terminate by stating that Nicholas is deprived of his sight, Uncle George (who is here at present) appears to be very near in the predicament, and indeed the soar Eyes predominate almost throughout the whole neighborhood.  Uncle has been here for some time …

                                                                                              John Croghan

Nicholas lost an eye in an accident at the age of five.

Nicholas lost an eye in an accident at the age of five.

  Majr William Croghan to Nicholas or Charles Croghan, Locust grove May 11th 1816

My Dear Nicholas or Charles,

I have Received your Letter of the 7th instant which is Wrote and worded in so handsome a Stile (for the first letter you ever Wrote) that I cannot but flatter Myself that in a Short time you will so far Improve as to be equal to most Boys of your Age & Experience. – I got to Bardstown the Evening I left you, where I stayed all Night and the Next Morning Started for home accompanied by Captain Moore and Fortunates Cosby and Arrived in the Afternoon.

          At present I wish you to be Instructed in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography & History, One of your brothers or Myself will call to see you this Summer and see what Improvement you have Made and Consult with the professors what Other branches of Education you had better be Instructed in. – your Confinement at College and living there [2 lines scratched out] but you Must put up with it, and Cheerfully Submit to the Rules of the College & advice & Instructions of the professors; you are Sent there to Recover the time you lost at the Stone Schoolhouse where you made but little Improvement in your Education, pray my Dear Boys be attentive to your Books and no doubt you will have a Good Education, your Brother Edmund continues at the Seminary in Louisville and Improves, I hope you will at least Improve in your Education as fast as he does, your Brothers John, George & William have each of them a good Education, and Nothing will give me greater pleasure than to find by your Attention that you are likely to follow their Examples and Acquire a good Education, — your Sisters and Brother Edmund are Much Obliged to you for the pictures, and paintings, — pray Write to me every two or three Weeks, let me know what you are learning, and how you like to live at the College, let me know if you want anything, and if in my power I will Send it for you. —  your Mother Brothers & Sisters Unite with me in their love to you wishing you every possible happiness.

                                                                          I am My Dear Boys

                                                                              Your Affectionate Father

                                                                              W Croghan

May 14th I expected to Send this letter by Fortunatus Cosby, with two pair of pantaloons but he will not Start for a few days, when he goes I will Send the pantaloons, — Inform James Bate that his Father has Received the letter he Wrote the Family are all well.  WC

After dying in Paris, Charles Croghan was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

After dying in Paris, Charles Croghan was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Majr. William Croghan to Nicholas & Charles Croghan, Locust grove June 19th 1816

My Dear Nicholas & Charles

I Received the letter you Wrote by Mr Bates, with Several other Letters you wrote a few days before, from those Letters I am Sorry to Observe that you don’t appear Satisfyed with your Situation at the College, which I think in a great Measure proceeds from Improper Advice gave to you by One of two of the Boys at College, you and those Boys were Informed of the Rules that were to be Observed at College and Should conform to them, you was sent there with a view of Improving in your Education which no doubt you will do if attentive to the Instructions of the professors.  They are men of Liberal Education, and highly qualified to teach the Different Branches of Education they teach, don’t let the Idle Conversation of a few Unruly Boys who wish to come home have an effect on you; when you write Letters, let them be Wrote by your Selves. – I received the letter you Wrote by the young French Gentlemen, who I supposed Informed you of their Spending an Evening on Board the Steamboat with your Mother, Sisters, & Myself. – Edmund Continues at the Seminary in Louisville, learning Latin &c, — I lately heard from your Brothers George & William, they were well and Expect to be home, George in 5 or 6 weeks, William soon after, when they come no doubt they will pay you a visit. – you must try by All means to be Reconciled to your Situation at College, you now have an Opportunity of Improving in your Education, therefore let me beg you would be Attentive and loose no time, Should you pass over this favourable Opportunity, you never will have it in your power to Improve to such Advantage again,

          Let me hear from you frequently and Should you be in want of a little money or anything I can Send let me know & I will sent it, —

                                                                              Your Affectionate Father

                                                                                    W Croghan

June 25th  Since Writing the foregoing I received three letters from you; and your Brother Edmund & Sisters Ann & Eliza  One, — We now have plenty of the pictures which you have Inclosed in your letters, Each pickture you inclose in your letter or piece of paper is liable to pay the same postage of a letter, if One piece of paper is inclosed Double postage Must be paid, if two [or] three times the postage, be the papers ever so Small.

          Dear Charles I have Received your letter and am glad to Understand by it, that you have conducted yourself so well as to not have a Bad Mark since you went to College, — Pray my Dear Charles try to Improve in your Education you now have a Much better Opportunity of doing it than you will ever have again, as to your coming home the 4th of July you Must not think of it I wish very much to see you and Nicholas but cannot think of your looseing the time at present and [I] Must try to see you if in my power, – My Dear Boys from your Letters I am Sorry to Observe that your clothes are getting very Much worn, I was in hopes your New Coats, with last Summers Coat, and your Cloth Coats with the Other Cloths you had, would have lasted until Next Fall, not in I purposed getting you new Cloths but I shall Make some Arrangement by seeing you or Otherwise by which you Shall have a Supply of Cloths Shortly, until then take what care you can of your Cloths, — I am my Dear

                                                                                              Your affectionate Father

                                                                                                  W Croghan

Charles and Nicholas survey Locust Grove from the porch with their cousin, Eloise Bullitt.

Charles and Nicholas survey Locust Grove from the porch with their cousin, Eloise Bullitt.

It must be fun to grow up in such a big, bustling family as the Croghans! Don’t forget to stop by for Market Fair next weekend to experience the eighteenth century at Locust Grove! We’ll have an encampment, music, entertainment, food, and so much more! I highly recommend visiting with the rat catcher.

Many happy returns of the season to you!


Market Fair 2015 Poster