Across from the VA Golf Course on Highway 231, you will see a thicket of trees on the left surrounded by signs reading “Park Closed” and “No Trespassing.” Luckily, we are all fluent in redneck, and can easily translate “no trespassing” to “y’all gotta see this shit.”
It’s not much to look at from the outside; in fact, we were having trouble locating it at first. After swatting down the world’s largest spider webs, Sleeping Beauty level vines and brambles, and crossing the treacherous boulder valley of insanity, we reached one of the three entrances to the Black Cat Cave (also sometimes locally known as Rainbow Cave, due to at one time having a rainbow painted on the bluff entering it).
You have to climb past the fencing pictured above, then shimmy over the cinder block wall till you find a foot step and then kind of melt into the cave. There’s water rushing in the darkness and dripping all over your head and into your eyes. It’s pitch black and the feeling is very, very creepy.
Armed with our iPhone flashlights, we made our way down the hallway to the first of three ‘rooms’ in the cave. The first on the right is at outside ground level, but steadily sinking with the rest of the cave due to water erosion. The room has a fireplace, poured concrete floors, graffiti masterfully done by 12 year olds who think they’re satanists, a window, and barred gates that line the walls for reinforcement when it was a dance hall/speakeasy called the Black Cat Tavern during prohibition (20’s-30’s).
But prohibition is just the most recent notch on the history belt for this cave. In the mid 1800’s a farmer named Asa Jackson invented a ‘perpetual motion’ machine to harness energy and run a threshing machine, which he secretly worked on in the cave around the time of the Civil War. The threshers were destroyed in a fire, thereby rendering the perpetual motion machine useless for Asa so it sat and essentially rotted. The remains of the Asa Jackson Perpetual Motion Machine can be viewed at the Museum of Appalachia in East Tennessee. The museum’s curator hired people from Oak Ridge to try to figure out how the machine may have worked, but it is still a mystery to this day.
Even further back in time, the cave *may* have been used as shelter prehistorically by Native American tribes who communally hunted the surrounding area. A group from nearby Middle Tennessee State University and members of the Native History Association “discovered a significant historical component” in the cave in June of 2014. It appears that the “component” was simply that Native Americans may have used the cave, which is unique because for time immemorial native Americans have never lived on that land.
It is because of this, the Black Cat Cave has been deemed ‘historically significant’ and is protected by the parks department. The park is closed so that archaeological research can be done without further disruption and vandalism.