Cave May Have Been Part Of Underground Railroad

Feb 6, 2013

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A cave that has held up construction of a coal ash landfill in Trimble County may have more significance than first thought - it might have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Courier-Journal reports historian Alicestyne Turley, who was hired by LG&E to study markings found in the cave, said in a report that she thinks it served as a place for slaves to hide as they traveled North toward freedom.

"In the opinion of this investigator, the `Wentworth Lime Cave' serves as a very real example of a `holding' or way station to aid slave escapes along the Ohio River," the report concluded.

The study is being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps as part of a wetlands destruction permit the utility requested in order to build the landfill.

"We will just have to look at the options to see what can be done," corps spokesman Todd Hornback said.

LG&E, which has argued that the formation isn't a cave but a "karst feature" said the report's findings are speculative.

"We agree with the consultant's report that there's no hard evidence that suggests this karst feature was used as part of the Underground Railroad," said LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan.

She said the company thinks more evidence should be gathered "because of the report's uncertainty."

The utility's ash storage ponds in Trimble County along the Ohio River are getting full, so LG&E has been planning to build a new, more environmentally friendly landfill on 218 acres of land it owns near the current facility.

Those plans have been on hold since state officials found out about the cave more than a year ago. Caves are generally protected due to a regulation making it "unlawful to remove, kill, harm or otherwise disturb any naturally occurring organism" found in them.

Turley said her report is based on her interpretation of photos taken by archeologists and her own research about the Underground Railroad.

"My report is not necessarily going to save the cave," Turley said in an interview. "We are losing our historical places."

Hornback says officials are set to meet Thursday to discuss how to proceed.