Stories & Traditions
Remarkably, the school systems of Horse Cave and nearby town Cave City merged across county lines in 1950; then, seven years later in 1957 racially integrated all grades at once, both first achievements for the state.
In the early 1900’s, tourists flocked to Horse Cave to visit Hidden River Cave, once billed as “the World’s Largest Cave Entrance.” By the 1940’s the cave had become so polluted that it was closed to the public and no longer used as the city’s water supply. The cave’s restoration in 1993 was one of the most remarkable environmental success stories in America and a breath of fresh air for Horse Cave. Today, Horse Cave, Kentucky is a constant reminder of the delicate balance between caves and the sunlit world above.
All communities have stories, but Horse Cave seems to have more than its share.
Maybe because it is a town built over a cave, a town with mystery at its core. What is down there . . around the next bend . . How far does it go?Practical considerations like access to water were certainly a draw for early settlers, but there is another quality, one that draws dreamers and storytellers. Just like the cave beneath the streets, layers of stories are under every building in the historic cultural district. There are other stories, too, stories that drifted into town with the tobacco brought in from outlying farms, stories of murder and mayhem, dreams and passion. The stories in this section are not tied to the stops on the tour, but they are a part of the Horse Cave experience.
The school systems of Horse Cave and Cave City merged across county lines in 1950, forming Caverna Schools. A school system, shared by two counties (Barren and Hart) was an unprecedented occurrence. There was dissent amongst the communities and even lawsuits. Then, seven years later, in 1957, Caverna integrated all twelve grades at once and was one of the first school systems in Kentucky to have an integrated teaching staff. The audio clips in these “Caverna Stories” provide differing perspectives and reactions to the formation and integration of Caverna during the 1950s. Caverna sports soared in state ratings after the school was formed and then again after integration. It is considered a model of successful integration, and yet, some people, black and white, still fell through the cracks.
Like everything in Hart County, local traditions have been influenced by caves.
What do caves possibly have to do with basket making, but there is a direct link. When Route 31 opened and tourists began rolling into Cave Country, local basket makers lined the highway selling their handmade wares to tourists eager for a souvenir. Competition inspired excellence and innovation, two hallmarks of Hart County baskets to this day.Hart County is also famous for the skill of its quilters, whose hand stitched masterpieces are displayed at the Family Medical Center in Munfordville. Painted reproductions of favorite patterns brighten the sides of barns in the county, a contemporary tradition known as the Quilt Trail that is documented by Bonnieville School students.
Another contemporary expression of a Hart County tradition can be found in the music of the Warrior Poetes. If you like live music, attend one of the free weekly jams in Horse Cave.
Tobacco has long been an integral part of the economy and community in Horse Cave, both growing tobacco and the process and industry of receiving and auctioning or selling that tobacco at the warehouse. We spoke with several individuals in the Horse Cave community involved in tobacco—on farms and at warehouses—to learn about the tobacco industry and it’s importance both to their own lives and to Horse Cave as a community.