Motlow Cave, Lynchburg, Tennessee

In the fall of 2016, Jason Hardy and I were contacted by the Jack Daniels Distillery about surveying a cave on their property, Motlow Cave. We of course jumped on the wonderful opportunity and enlisted a few of our good friends to help out (Ben Miller, Katie Ingram, Brian Ham, Nicole Miller, Hali Steinmann & Jason Lavender). During September 2016 we surveyed the cave in two trips and made a third to document historical signatures with Marion O Smith and take photos. After we finished our survey, another fellow caver who is also a Tennessee Squire nominated both Jason and I to become Tennessee Squires. The Tennessee Squire Association is a private membership by nomination only and it was created more than 60 years ago to recognize loyal friends of Jack Daniels.

Motlow Cave (MR7) is located in the northeast corner of Lynchburg, on the east side of Stillhouse Hollow, 300 yards northeast of Jack Daniel Cave (MR6). Motlow Cave is the most impressive and the most frequently visited of Moore County caves. It is reputed to connect with Jack Daniel Cave, however after the 2016 survey it is noted that no physical connection can be made but it is likely that the water that flows through the passage near the entrance does flow into the famous spring cave. It is also suspected that Motlow Cave is an old paleo trunk passage that was once connected to the spring cave but is now blocked by breakdown in the new discovery room.

As noted by Tom Barr in his 1961 book, The Caves of Tennessee, the cave opening was a small hole on the hillside. During the Brown-Forman renovations in 1982 the distillery made some significant renovations to the cave which included enlarging the entrance to 28 feet wide and 25 feet tall. They installed large western cedar doors that were made by Larry Shockley from Belvidere, Tn. Larry re used the lock that was on the old gate on the new doors, which is noted to be over 100 years old and each door weighs 400lbs.

The cave consists of three large rooms. The entrance room and the big room are connected by a passage 300 feet long, a narrow extension of this passage, and two side passages 150 feet long. The entrance room is 30 feet in diameter and 30 feet high, and the Big Room is 75 feet by 40 feet by 40 feet high. The main passage connecting the two rooms runs northeast, and the side passages run northwest approximately at right angles to the main passage. In 1982 the Brown-Forman Corporation spent $97,000 in renovations to commercialize the cave and remapped it. During their renovations a 62 foot pit system in the Big Room was filled in and a new portion of the cave was discovered and named New Discovery.

The side passage off the entrance of the cave runs in a southeast direction for 150 feet to a signature room and a very tight 20 foot long crawlway. In the signature room there are hundreds of signatures. The most notable are three sets of initials dated January 16, 1863 along with 51st ALA. It is believed these signatures are from Civil War soldiers with the 51st Regiment of Alabama, the signature of Tom Motlow, who was the younger brother of Lemuel Motlow and the oldest noted signature in the signature room is from 1834 and is scratched in the right wall. During wet weather a rimstone dam flows in this area and into the tight crawlway. After the tight crawlway there is a 20 foot pit into a mud room. From here there is a 10 foot climb up through breakdown into the New Discovery room. The new discovery room is approximately 240 feet by 100 feet wide and 40 feet tall.

There is evidence of Salt Peter mining in the cave but there is no found written documentation to support this.

The Brown-Forman Corporation operated the cave as a commercial cave for approximately 20 years before it was closed to tours. In 2016, the Brown-Forman Corporation reached out to Jason Hardy & Kelly Smallwood to re map the cave. Their plan was to re open the cave for VIP tours. Total cave length is 1,672.7 feet long and 97.7 feet deep. (Barr, 1961; Jason Hardy & Kelly Smallwood 2017)

Map by Jason Hardy

The entrance to Motlow Cave, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Nicole Miller, Marion O. Smith & Joe Douglas looking at historical Civil War signatures

Hali Steinmann in the New Discovery room

Historical signatures in the signature room

Historical signatures in the signature room. 51st Regiment, 1863

Hali sketching in the signature room

Historical signatures

Historical signatures

Historical signatures

Historical signatures

Oldest signature in the cave. 1834

The New Discovery room

Signature of Tom Motlow