Throwback Thursday – Hidden River Cave’s Electric Claim to Fame

Southern Kentucky is known for its cave country. This week Throwback Thursday visits Horse Cave in Hart County, home of Hidden River Cave. Its mouth entrance is in an unusual spot, directly underneath the city’s Main Street. Around 1850, the city itself sprung up from the springs that run thru the cave, and city leaders had the smarts to put together Kentucky’s very first incandescent light source of electricity.

This segment is told with the help of the Horse Cave/Hart County Tourism Commission, along with sources from Hidden River Cave’s archives. This wasn’t the first time the cave’s entrance had been used as a water source. Hidden River Cave has been home to Native Americans before white settlers landed on the property. 

The cave is a natural source of running water. After Horse Cave was founded in the 1850s, there were several attempts to create public waterworks systems from the hidden river. As early as 1879, there were even attempts to use the running water from the cave to boost water into storage units that could be used for fighting city fires. These attempts became reality when dentist, Dr. George A. Thomas, bought a home next to the cave entrance and bought the cave itself for $375.

He wanted to use the water for electricity, and by 1892, a vertical shaft turbine was put at the confluence of the cave’s running water springs to power a piston, booster, and top pumps. This ultimately led to a generator that gave electricity to the Thomas home, his dental office, and two other buildings in town. Thus, Horse Cave was the first city in Kentucky to have electric-powered incandescent lights.

Hidden River Cave’s tourist, electric, and conservation histories are all excellent stories. We’ll tell more in other segments.