PARK CITY -- Aug. 19 marked the 160th anniversary of the start of cave tours at Diamond Caverns, which can be found along Ky. 255 inside the boundaries of Mammoth Cave National Park.
The attraction was discovered in July 1859, and one month later, tours of the cave started, making it the second-oldest, continuously operated show cave in Kentucky and the fourth-oldest in the nation.
The discovery of Diamond Caverns and the start of cave tours there precede a lot of what Eric Helton, general manager, refers to as "staples of Americana."
"We predate the Pony Express (and) Mark Twain hadn't started writing yet," he said, adding that the Transcontinental Railroad and the Kentucky Derby also had not yet started.
In the 35 days from when Diamond Caverns was discovered to when tours first began, a lot took place.
"They built a building over the entrance. They built wooden stairs going into the cave. They had built wooden platforms in the cave, so that visitors weren't walking in the dirt and the mud," Helton said.
He referenced an article published in a Louisville newspaper at the time by a man who had said Diamond Caverns was "the best cave to go and see because folks traveling didn't have to change out of their travel ware to come and see the cave."
"You could get off your stagecoach, take a tour and you weren't in the dirt and the mud, and you could get right back in your stagecoach and on the train and continue on as opposed to traipsing in all of that," he said.
The cave tour is about 1/4 of a mile in length and features two levels, but back then it wasn't quite as long.
"They were only able to get halfway into the cave at that time," he said.
The historic moment was not recognized with a formal celebration on Monday, but the staff did make a point to inform visitors about it.
"One-hundred and sixty is kind of an odd year. It's not 150. It's not 175, but it is a nice even number. It is better than 159, so we are just doing some give-aways today and making an emphasis for all of our visitors what an auspicious day it is," Helton said.