Horse Cave and Cave City – The story behind the Twin Cities of the Mammoth Cave area

According to the great lexicographer Wikipedia, “Twin cities are a special case of two cities or urban centres that are founded in close geographic proximity and then grow into each other over time, losing most of their mutual buffer zone.”

While it may not be widely agreed upon that Horse Cave and Cave City are traditional cities, they could have been considered “urban centres” in this area of Kentucky historically called “the Barrens.”

Let’s go way back to talk about the specific area where Horse Cave and Cave City now sit side-by-side:

  • Pre-European settlement of the US –“The Barrens” was a place that most believe was repeatedly burned off by Native Americans in pre- European settlement times to make grasslands for deer and buffalo.
  • 1776 – When the United States was formed, Kentucky was a county in Virginia.
  • 1780 – The area became part of Lincoln County Virginia.
  • 1792 – It became part of Logan County when Kentucky became the nation’s 15th state.
  • 1796 – It became part of Warren County.
  • 1798 – The area south of the Green River became Barren County.
  • 1819 – Hart County was formed and included a portion of Hardin County from the north and a portion of Barren County south of the Green River.

So the areas that are now Horse Cave and Cave City were in the same county until Hart County was formed in 1819.

While there were few settlers at that time in what would later become Horse Cave and Cave City, there were families scattered in the area. Horse Cave was officially incorporated in 1864 and Cave City in 1866.

Around that time, Colonel Wade Veluzat proposed the formation of a new county, Caverna County, made up of Horse Cave, Cave City, and Park City. The proposal was never approved by the state legislature.

While Horse Cave grew slowly through the Civil War, a building boom occurred about 1868, and during that boom, the town’s name was changed to Caverna with a post office of the same name. However, the 1857 agreement of ownership from Major Albert Anderson to the L&N Railroad had specified that the stop would always be called Horse Cave, and after about 10 years, the confusion caused the name to revert back to Horse Cave.

A historic photo of Twin City Motel that was on US 31W at the northern border of Cave City. The motel is still in operation today.

At this point, the city limits of the two small towns did not meet, but they were only about three miles apart. Today, the city limits meet, appropriately enough near Twin City Motel, one of the area’s tourist lodging options that sprung up along US 31W in the 1950s and 1960s when automobile travel was still fairly young and post-war families were traveling the USA.

So what do these “twin cities” have in common?

  • Both were named for the caves they have within their city limits that originally served as sources of water;
  • Both have a history of a tourism-related economy impacted by their location near Mammoth Cave National Park and several local attractions and businesses;
  • Both have US 31W running through and Interstate 65 near their borders;
  • Both have the railroad running through downtown;
  • Their population numbers are almost identical (Horse Cave 2,437 and Cave City 2,424 in 2020);
  • Neither is a county seat, and neither has a town square;
  • Each is located on the edge of their county. You can stand at the county line with one foot in Cave City and one in Horse Cave; and
  • They share a school system created in 1950 that crosses county lines. When the plans were laid for the new buildings to house Caverna Independent Schools, the officials measured from the stoplights in the downtown of each town to make sure they were exactly between.

With so many similarities, have the towns lost their own individuality? We think you’ll agree there are some differences.

Broadway in downtown Cave City several decades ago.
  • Hotels and restaurants near I-65 in Cave City developed more quickly, and Cave City has a Convention Center;
  • Cave City’s Broadway is 100 feet wide, and Horse Cave has extremely narrow streets that don’t have traditional intersections (Thanks to Major Albert Anderson, but that’s another story);
  • The cave in downtown Horse Cave (Hidden River Cave) is now a thriving tourism attraction in the National Register of Historic Places Commercial District;
Main Street in downtown Horse Cave about 50 years ago.
  • Horse Cave was for decades one of the largest burley tobacco marketing centers in the world and now has a large industrial base; and
  • Cave City is “wet” and Horse Cave is “moist” (Just research Kentucky’s alcohol-sales terms to figure out the difference).

We’re sure there are more similarities and differences, but we know that visitors don’t really know or care which county they are in or which town they are in. We like that. Even twins have differences, but they are family. We like that, too.

And we think you’ll like this link that shows the formation of Kentucky counties:…/kentuckyformationmaps.html

You’ll also want to check the award-winning Horse Cave Stories Cell Phone Walking Tour and this related website for lots of oral histories:

You can pick up the 3 Horse Cave Pictorial History books at Horse Cave City Hall (121 Woodlawn Avenue).