When many people think of the natural beauty of Alabama, their minds’ eye imagines beautiful verdant forests, rivers and lakes teeming with wildlife, or perhaps a favorite white-sanded beach. However, Alabama has another tremendous natural resource – the world underground with its caves and karst systems. Karst refers to a landscape pockmarked with sinkholes, caves and underground streams.
Alabama has one of the highest densities of caves and karst features found anywhere in the world, and the northern part of the state has a particularly high number. Much of north Alabama is underlain with deep deposits of limestone, formed over millions of years by the deposition of innumerable calcareous organisms in a shallow marine sea. These gray limestone deposits can be seen along highways that cut through the area’s mountains and hills. Most of the caves in Alabama were formed as water percolated through this limestone and dissolved away materials and formed openings and tunnels in the limestone. When enough material has been dissolved away, a cave is formed.
Throughout the Gadsden area are many mysterious caves in which all sort of legends are connected. For instance, Confederate soldiers entered a cave and staggered out days later at another distant location. Then there were caves that served as a shelter for the Indians, for a hospital, for moon shining operations and for the mining of gunpowder.
Sometimes back, The Vagabond wrote an article about the dynamited cave at Noccalula Falls that supposedly runs to Keener Springs at Keener, Ala. The Vagabond received an e-mail from Jim Morgan sometime back. Jim once lived in Etowah County and asked about another particular cave in Gadsden.
“My mother occasionally sends me your Vagabond column from The Messenger. I ﬁnd the articles interesting and thought-provoking. I grew up in Gadsden and Rainbow City in the 50s and 60s and currently live in South Mississippi, but still visit Gadsden. In the mid-1960s, a friend of mine took me to an Indian cave on top of the mountain in the Country Club area. There were carved steps leading down to the entrance. We were not prepared to go into the cave that day, and I have never been in the cave. I really don’t know if it is an Indian cave or about its true history. I would be interested to know any information you may ﬁnd.”
The Vagabond remembers being in this cave with several friends during his college days. Many times Ray Brooks, now of the Birmingham area, would tag along, and we would go and explore the cave for hours.
Merit Springs Cave, as it is officially known with the Alabama Cave Survey, is above the Country Club Hills area. It was known years ago as Indian Springs Cave. There are some old carved steps leading into this cave and another entrance to the cave is located halfway down the hill.
The cave is not a spectacular one, by any means. There is not any stalactite or worthwhile formations to be found. Actually, it is a plain, long room slanting downward with a smaller room at the end.
The Vagabond believes that an ancient earthquake could have formed the room into the space it is now. However, the entrance is mysterious in itself. It is probably 30 feet below a cliff and located next to the road. The area is unusual, as if appearing to be a sinkhole.
Water can only escape down into the cave. The rocks are covered by wet moss and there seems to be a lot of moisture.
Prior to entering the cave, you have to go under a boulder and sharply curve into the cave. The steps, which are slippery to walk on, descend several feet into the chamber. One cannot help but wonder if Indians used this cave. Except for a few arrowheads found in the area, there is no evidence that they lived or worked here. The steps do look like they were placed there a long time ago.
According to the late Jerry Jones, a historian and genealogist and former Etowah County tax assessor, the steps were put in after World War II when Guy Freeman was developing the area. Jerry recalls that his great-great- grandfather, Hugh Jones, owned the land in this area and had a nearby silver mine near the cave. This mine was last used in 1858, prior the Civil War. Hugh would take the ore and some cotton produced on his plantation and sell it in New Orleans.
Around the 1960s, Ed Edwards was digging up his yard for a swimming pool when the site collapsed into the old mine. Jerry said that the area had to be filled with concrete before the pool could be built.
Over the years, the area where Merit Springs cave is located was a little resort. Folks came from all over to drink from Merit Springs, which was located at the bottom of the mountain below the cave. Nearby are some rock formations at the foot of the mountain called Spurlock Rocks. These rocks tower for many feet straight up the side of the mountain. At one time there was a dancing pavilion that many enjoyed.
Back in the 1880s, and even earlier, this area drew frequent visitors and picnickers from all around. Today, nice houses are built which once was a place for the locals to get away, relax and enjoy the mysteries that nature provided. Everything has changed in the area from what it once was. Unfortunately, the things we treasured in the past are gone and forgotten forever.