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Known in its heyday as Lakeland Caverns, this former show cave and its lake have fascinated city residents for more than a century.
On April 13, 1906, a cave was discovered beneath Liberty Street near the heart of the city of Charles Town, West Virginia, by workers who were excavating the site for construction of a new building. Those who entered the just over 200-foot-long cave found that it contained “a large lake of clear water,” which was then explored by row boat, according to an article in The Spirit of Jefferson newspaper.
Stories abound about what happened in Charles Town Cave, as it’s known today, in the years following its discovery. Many Charles Town residents tell stories about their parents or grandparents attending dances down there in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, signatures dating from that time period are etched into the cave walls, according to a bulletin written by Robert Gulden and Mark Johnsson and published by the West Virginia Speleological Survey in 1984.
In 1928, a machinist named Charles P. Weller leased the cave from the city and turned it into a commercial venture, installing lights on the ceiling as well as underwater. Other improvements to the cave included raising and leveling the floor with gravel, installing a boat dock on the lake and digging a wishing well. Fossils also were placed in the cave to give it “an authentic look.”
Lakeland Caverns, as the show cave was called, was opened to the public for tours and boat rides around the lake in the summer of 1928. Admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children, according to a brochure for the cave shared by Gary Soule, a trustee with the American Spelean History Association.