It was a hole in the ground, 200 feet deep. During the 1880s, explorers used ropes to descend into the darkness and, thinking the walls looked like marble, named it Marble Cave. One of the men was a newspaper publisher and wrote about its beauty. A mining company was formed but no marble was found.
About 1882, another group of investors, Jones and Powell of Barton County, went looking for lead. Jones bought the cave two years later and, with several friends, formed Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Co. In 1884, a town, Marble City, was planned, but little development took place. When the mine played out with no profits, so did the town.
Thanks to an article in “Scientific American” magazine in 1885, word of the magnificent cave spread. A Canadian mining expert, William Henry Lynch, bought the cave sight unseen and moved to the Ozarks with his two daughters. They opened the cave to the public in 1894.
They had to close for awhile when more capital was needed, but tours were restarted by the 1900s. One of its visitors was Harold Bell Wright. After he published “The Shepherd of the Hills,” people all over the country began visiting to see all that Wright had described in his book.
As transportation changed from horse-and-buggy to cars, roads became a necessity. Lynch cut brush and cleared a road that would later become Missouri Highway 76. The cave was well-established by the 1920s.
Lynch died in 1927 and left the cave to his daughters who changed the cave’s name to Marvel Cave. They ran the business until their retirement in 1946. Hugo Herschend purchased a 99-year lease and, along with his wife, Mary, and their two teenage sons, took over the management of the cave and its tours in April 1950. When Hugo died five years later, Mary took over the business and began to make improvements, the first, being a train which pulled visitors the 218 feet from the cave to the surface.
With the train in place, the family began searching for other means to attract visitors. An 1880s frontier town was built around the cave to give visitors something to do while they waited for their tour and Silver Dollar City was born.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org