The natural beauty that characterizes Illinois is more than skin deep, some of the state's most significant and scenic wonders lie far beneath the surface -- in Illinois caves. With more than 100 recorded caves, Monroe County has more caves than any other county in Illinois.
Illinois Caverns is the only cave that has been operated commercially in Illinois. In 1901 the cave, which was located on a farm of Frederick Eckert, was leased by a Mr. White of East St. Louis. A bound register kept at the caverns indicates that the first paying sightseers arrived April 23, 1901. Many early visitors were from the surrounding communities, but others came from distant states and even foreign nations.
Arriving at nearby Burksville Station by train, early visitors were met by horse-drawn wagons and transported the last few miles to the cave entrance. The cavern's passages and formations were illuminated by kerosene lamps attached to the walls. A steady stream of curiosity seekers marveled at the underground wonders during the run of the St. Louis World's Fair, but when the fair closed, visitation tot he cave dropped. The first attempt to reap financial benefit from Illinois Caverns ended in 1907.
In 1947, the farm on which the cave was located was sold to William Hayden. Hayden and his nephew then made a second attempt to commercialize the cave. Some improvements were made, including the installation of electric lights in the main passageways. Advertisements proclaimed "Manmmoth Cave of Illinois (as the cave was know in the early 1900s) -- One of the World's Most Beautiful Caves." The expected throngs of tourists did not materialize and the venture soon failed. Until Hayden's nephew, Robert, sold the cave to the State of Illinois in 1985, the site was only periodically visited.
About the time the Haydens' venture failed, Armin Krueger became the caretaker of the cave. Krueger was born about a quarter of a mile from the cave entrance and had spent much of his adult life guiding visitors through Illinois Caverns and exploring the caves of Monroe County.
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