Caves, Earthquakes and Floods

by Bruce Whitaker

Bat Cave is located where the road from Hendersonville and the road to Fairview meet. The town, not surprisingly, is named after a real bat cave located nearby. Just south of the town of Bat Cave, a trail crosses the Broad River and winds its way up Chimney Rock Mountain to the entrance to the bat cave, 25 to 30 feet up. The cave is a fissure cave, which is formed by the cracking of rock due to the contraction and expansion of the earth. In the case of the bat cave, this is likely due to its location on an earthquake fault. (Chimney Rock is also on the fault.) The first chamber of the cave is around 100 feet deep. The entrance to the inner chamber, in the rear of the front cave, is tiny and has never been thoroughly explored. The inner chamber is completely dark and serves as a refuge for thousands of bats that hang from a high ceiling.

Hard to Reach

Locals say entering the cave with an oil lamp or flashlight disturbs the bats, causing them to swarm around the person carrying the light. A flow of air from the center of the mountain keeps the cave at a constant temperature. It is cool in the summer and warm enough in the winter that the entrance doesn’t freeze. The cave is not visited much today. It is extremely difficult to reach, dark, and covered with bats—and then there are the snakes. Many rattlesnakes congregate on the rocky granite surfaces at the cave’s entrance, and they hibernate inside during the winter.

There are Civil War tales of runaway slaves, Confederate deserters, escaped Yankee prisoners, and Union sympathizers hiding in the cave while attempting to flee the area. Tourists staying in Hendersonville for the summer from around 1900 until World War I would take carriages, called hacks, to visit the cave. The trip would take all day. Guides would meet the carriages and guide the tourists up the steep narrow trail to the cave and serve them a picnic lunch on the side of the mountain. It would be dark by the time they returned to Hendersonville. After the end of World War I, tourism began to drop off.

The area around Bat Cave has little land that is good for farming, and the population has always been small. Joe Williams bought a section of land that was particularly narrow just east of Bat Cave, on the Rutherford County side of the line. He set up a tollgate, which was legal to do at the time. People would often buy the gap of a mountain and river crossings and then charge a toll for crossing their property. Mrs. Frank Hudgens, Joe Williams’s daughter who was 94 years old in 1957, said her father had a narrow path that a person or man on a horse would use to go around the tollgate. If the gate had to be raised for a wagon or livestock, her father would charge a toll. Williams charged 25 cents for a wagon or buggy to pass through. He charged 5 cents a head for cattle, horses, hogs, mules and sheep.

Lost Toll

Mrs. Hudgens told of an occasion her father got cheated out of his toll. A man on a white horse leading a drove of several hundred mules came to the gate. The mules had been trained to follow the horse. The man told Williams he did not know how many mules he had. He told Williams to count them as he went through the gate and he would pay the toll for each animal after.

The gate was raised and the man on the horse went through. He then gave a loud whistle and galloped away. The mules stampeded after the horse and Williams was unable to close the gate. The mules soon disappeared down the road and Williams was cheated out of his toll.

The people of Rutherford County eventually rebelled against the toll. Joe Williams then moved the tollgate closer to Bat Cave on the Henderson County side of the line, and it operated several more years in that county.

Earthquake Epicenter

On January 3, 1874, Bald Mountain was the epicenter of an earthquake that was felt from Rutherfordton to Asheville. Boulders came tumbling down the sides of the mountains into the gorge from Bat Cave to Chimney Rock. This was not a one-time event. Every day from January 3 until the end of June, an earthquake was felt. People would start to get into a wagon or mount a horse and suddenly the animal would sense a quake a few seconds before it occurred and run away from its owner, throwing them to the ground. Dishes rattled and cabins shook. Landslides occurred, and people fled their homes.

On August 31, 1886, a major earthquake hit Charleston, SC, causing millions of dollars in damage. At 10 pm the next day, Bald Mountain was at the center of another earthquake for a few minutes. People in Hendersonville fled their homes and ran into the streets. People living where Lake Lure is now located said that when they ran out of their houses into the moonlight, they could see Bald Mountain moving. Streams disappeared, never to reappear. A giant waterfall that fell from the top of the mountain near Chimney Rock disappeared.

The July 1916 flood hit Bat Cave particularly hard. Eight people drowned in Bat Cave. Rock boulders in Broad River from Bat Cave to Chimney Rock were tossed around like rubber balls even though they weighed hundreds of pounds. Hundreds of heads of cattle drowned before they could reach high ground. The sides of mountains gave way and slid down to the valley. A farmer on Middle Fork, between Bat Cave and Gerton, helplessly watched the side of a mountain start to slide. It engulfed his home, burying his wife and children before they could escape. Every store from Bat Cave to Chimney Rock to Lake Lure was washed away. The road through Hickory Nut Gorge was washed away.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. He can be reached at 628-1089 or brucewhitaker@

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