Throwback Thursday – Bowling Green’s first tourist camp and the Tavern Nite Club

You may recognize the giant water wheel from the Nashville Road entrance of Lost River Cave, one of Bowling Green’s oldest tourist attractions. While this place continues to bring modern tourists and locals alike, this week we’re stepping back in time over a hundred years to experience Lost River Cave’s first tourist camps.

A century ago, the United States was kicking off the decade of prohibition. Alcohol sales were outlawed and bootlegging became a national pastime in the 1920’s. Finding creative ways to get around the law were common, and Bowling Green was no different. With bootleggers running whiskey run in downtown Bowling Green, an underground nightclub was the perfect scheme against prohibition.

The Tavern Nite Club boomed even after prohibition ended and was the hottest spot in town in the 1930’s for date nights, honeymooners, and a good time. Lost River Cave itself had been offering tours of the cave ever since it was the alleged hideout of notorious outlaw Jesse James after he robbed a bank in Russellville. The cave was directly off major Dixie Highway 31-W and attracted visitors traveling across the country. 

Tourist cabins were built atop the cave, with views looking down over the cave mouth entrance and staircase that led straight to the underground nightclub, which peaked in the 1930’s. The tourist cabin circle was a collection of small drive-up cabins perfect for couple’s retreats or a cozy family getaway. 

The Tavern Nite Club shut down in the 1950’s and the cabins closed along with it. As cabins were either demolished or naturally destroyed thanks to the cave’s environment, the cave itself became an eyesore and garbage dump by the 1970’s and 80’s. It wasn’t until the Friends of Lost River Cave non-profit group in the mid-1990’s cleaned it up that it once again grew into the popular attraction it is today.