"Black Cat Cave" May Have Prehistoric Ties

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The city has put bars across the entrance to Black Cat Cave to reduce chances of injuries and vandalism. Those who ran the speakeasy in the 1920's used cinder blocks to create doors and windows in the cave opening.

It looks as if the controversial Black Cat Cave, across from the VA Hospital, was more than a speakeasy in the Prohibition days of the 1920's. Recent findings indicate the cavern could have prehistoric Native American ties. This coming Tuesday's WGNS Action Line broadcast (8:10-9:00AM) will cover some of this breaking news. Robert Rickman has more...


The cave is hidden in a clump of trees and surrounded by 2.4 acres of land across from the Alvin C. York V.A. Hospital. It was donated to the City of Murfreesboro by the U.S. government in 1971 for use as a public park and recreation area. (Photo below) As you can see, the clump of trees are just across the Lebanon Highway (231-North) from the VA Golf Course.

However, because of liability concerns and a fear of vandalism,  the city blocked the entrance nearly 30-years-ago, with bars and large rocks.   Murfreesboro officials had no knowledge of any evidence of prehistoric or ancient activities within the Black Cat Cave.

But because of a recent vandalism discovery,  the Black Cat Cave may  be declared historically significant, because evidence was found that suggests that prehistoric people may have lived there  .    (see below)

The cave is under the protection of Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department, and Director Lanny Goodwin noted, “We are making every effort to be good stewards of this cultural resource, and will continue to consult with MTSU, the State of Tennessee, the Native History Association, and others as we move forward.”  Robert Rickman, WGNS news.

Doctors Tanya Peres and Shannon Hodge, both archaeologists with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, are working with Aaron Deter-Wolf with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, and members of the Native History Association in a collaborative effort to preserve, protect, and study the unique prehistoric and historic occupations of Black Cat Cave. 

It was not unusual to use caves as public gathering places in the days before air conditioning. Keep in mind that a cave maintains a temperature in the mid-50's year around, even on steamy hot summer days and nights. One of the more popular ones was Dunbar Cave in Clarksville, where Roy Acuff used to entertain on a regular basis. 

Dr. Peres advised that state of Tennessee records show that approximately 275 prehistoric sites are located in Rutherford County, the majority of which are in the Percy Priest Lake vicinity.

This number is markedly low compared to Davidson and Williamson counties, which have a combined total of over 1,300 registered prehistoric sites. Some believe the low number of sites in Rutherford County is because Native Americans did not physically live in this area in the centuries and millennia before European settlers arrived, instead using this area as a communal hunting ground.

In reality, there is much more to the story, but since the county is still largely agricultural, few archaeological surveys have been undertaken to identify and locate areas where prehistoric Native Americans lived. This collaborative project between the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department, MTSU, and the TDOA may result in some re-writing of the county’s prehistoric story.

Drs. Peres and Hodge, and Mr. Deter-Wolf are helping to assess the extent of the damage to the site caused by recent vandalism (including graffiti and illegal digging), as part of the first phase of the project. They and MTSU Anthropology students are volunteering their time to remove the modern garbage from this cultural resource.

This will be followed by an assessment of the damage done to the natural cave walls and the cultural features within. The ultimate goal is to protect this site from future episodes of vandalism and looting, while gaining important archaeological information to better understand the long-term use of the cave by various groups that lived in Rutherford County in the past.

Park's Director Goodwin concluded, "In the meantime, the cave will continue to be closed to the public.”


Read more from:
Black Cat Cave, MTSU, Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department, Native American, prehistoric ties, WGNS
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