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West Virginia Archives & History

A History Of Organ Cave Community

(Greenbrier County, West Virginia)

by Blanche Humphreys

On the southside of the Greenbrier River lies the magisterial division of Greenbrier county, West Virginia, called Irish Corner District. Organ Cave post-office and community are nearly in the center of the district.


The name of the district should really be Scotch-Irish Corner instead of Irish Corner for the reason that the early settlers for whom it was named were not Irish but Scotch-Irish. The ancestors of the people in this community were originally Scotch and in the following paragraphs we shall try to explain how we get the hyphenated name Scotch-Irish.

At one time the whole of civilized Europe worshiped according to the Catholic faith. Martin Luther, a German monk protested against some of the practices of the Roman church or in other words started the Protestant Reformation. The teaching of the Scripture as interpreted by Luther soon spread to all parts of Europe. The Reformed church had now begun to branch out into different sects or denominations. John Knox, a Scotchman was one of the most ardent workers of the Reformation movement. He had been a pupil of John Calvin the founder of the Presbyterian church in Switzerland and had gone back to his native Scotland where he had organized a large following of Presbyterians.

When Mary Queen of Scots, who was a Catholic, ascended the throne of Scotland she endeavored to have her subjects worship according to her faith. The whole of Queen Mary's reign seems to have been dominated by strife between the two religious factions.

It was about this time that thousands of the Scotch Presbyterians left their native country for the Province of Ulster in the northern part of Ireland. This colony of Scotch people dwelt peacefully in Ulster for ma.ny years and built up a strong Presbyterian church which exists to the present time. In 1689, James II organized an army to advance into Ireland and subdue the Protestants of Belfast and Londonderry. The men of Ulster under the leadership of Prince William of Orange met the Catholic army in the famous siege of Londonderry. This siege lasted one hundred and five days and resulted in a complete downfall of James II and his army.

About this time, the eyes of Europe were turned westward toward the new country of America. Colonies had already been established in the New World and still more people were to go from time to time to take up their homes in the land which is now our grand and glorious nation, the United States of America.

Many of the Scotch-Irish inhabitants of Ulster Plantation came to the colonies of Virginia, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, and others and upon finding the land near the coast mostly taken up, pushed westward over the mountains and founded their homes in what now comprises the counties of Greenbrier and Monroe and other counties in what is now the state of West Virginia


By the term "early settlers", we mean the people who had founded homes in this community at any time previous to the Civil War. As the list is rather lengthy, it will be impossible to go into a detailed discussion of each separate family, however we shall discuss briefly in the following paragraphs, three early settlers whose lands are still owned in greater part by their descendants.

It is not definitely known where or by whom, the first home in what is now Organ Cave Community was established. Sometime before the Revolutionary War, Michael Rodgers and wife emigrated from Ireland and settled on a thousand acre tract of wooded land, some four or five miles west of Organ Cave. They built their home on the place which was many years later the home of J. Harrison Burdette. The greater part of this thousand acres is still owned by Michael Rodgers' descendants.

In 1784 John McDowell built a home on land about halfway between Organ Cave and Ronceverte. Samuel H. McDowell the fourth generation of the family is the present owner of the farm.

John Erwin came to this locality at an early date. It is not definitely known what year he settled here, however it was previous to 1785 for that year his oldest son, John Erwin Junior was born in a log cabin about three miles northeast of Organ Cave. At the time of his death, John Erwin had about one thousand acres of land. During late years some of this land has changed hands but the farm owned by Samuel N. Erwin is a part of the original grant which has come down to the fifth generation. Samuel N. Erwin's children and grandchild were born on this place, thus making seven generations of the same family to have lived on it.

The following is a list of the surnames of families who were early settlers of Organ Cave Community: Adair, Burdette, Boyd, Boone, Burwell, Curry, Crawford, Dickson, Darnell, Erwin, Eades, Fleshman, Gibson, Humphreys, Holesapple, Honaker, Jackson, Kearns, Level, McDowell, McClure, Miller, Morgan, Patton, Price, Robinson, Rodgers, Sydenstricker, Williams, and White.

How the Community Got Its Name

The limestone cavern called Organ Cave is about one-half mile from the postoffice of the same name. This cave has attracted tourists from all parts of the United States and some- foreign countries. There are two entrances to this cave. One is the large opening where the sightseer is taken in and the other entrance is where the small stream of water enters. The last named entrance is so low that one has to crawl through the opening. Many years ago some young men explored the cave from this entrance and found in there some little sleds which are thought to have been used in the getting out of saltpetre for making gunpowder during the War of 1812. The entrance is so low and narrow that the only way to get it out was to load it on sleds and draw it through.

The main channel of the cave forks into two branches a short distance from the entrance.

The right hand branch of the cave leads into a large room or auditorium. In this room are many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. There is one huge formation of stalagmites that resembles a pipe organ. These stalagmites are of various lengths and diameters and different tones can be made to sound by striking them. In the left hand branch are about fifty saltpetre hoppers used for the manufacture of gun powder for the Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. These hoppers are in an excellent state of preservation today. The ceiling of the cave is low at this place and tourists have written their names on it. There are the names of people from all parts of this country and some from Europe also. Organ Cave has always been a picnic ground for the people of the community and many people from neighboring communities come there for social gatherings. The guests at the White Sulphur Springs have always been interested in it and many of them visit it every summer.

Mr. Andrew Price of Marlinton, Pocahontas County, found in his historical research work a paper written by Thomas Jefferson in which he tells about a cave. Mr. Price thinks this cave is Organ Cave and produces conclusive evidence to prove his opinion.

Thomas Jefferson tells of finding the fossil remains of some pre-historic animal in a cave on Frederic Cromer's place beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west side of the Greenbrier River.

The records in the clerk's office at Lewisburg show that the farm on which Organ Cave is located did at one time belong to Frederic Cromer but instead of being on the west side of the Greenbrier, it is positively on the east. It is very likely that Thomas Jefferson did not have a compass with him when he visited this cave and was only guessing at the direction. Aside from that, all the other evidence proves beyond any doubt that he was in Organ Cave.

Post Offices

Organ Cave has not always been the name of the postoffice serving this community. Previous to the Civil War, all the people residing in this locality received their mail at Lewisburg. Shortly after the Civil War, a postoffice was established at J.M. Price's store with Mr. Price as the postmaster. The name given this postoffice was Price's Shop. This location was known locally by that name anyhow as Mr. Price's brother Abraham had a blacksmith shop there. The site of this store and shop was on the place now owned by J. Orr White. The marks of the old store site can still be seen in the lower corner of Mr. White's yard.

The postoffice still continued at the same location for some years but was changed in name. The new name was Monroe Draft. J. M. Miller was the next postmaster. Mr. Miller conducted a store and served as postmaster at the old stand until the location was moved to the present site after the road was changed, which will be discussed more fully in another chapter.

The postoffice was never called Organ Cave till it was moved to its present location. R. A. Level and O. B. Humphreys bought the store from Mr. Miller and Mr. Humphreys was appointed postmaster. In 1902 Mr. Humphreys sold his interest in the store to W. H. Level who held the office for about a year or till he resigned it to A. W. McDowell the present postmaster.


The most of the people in this community have always been identified with the Presbyterian or Methodist faiths, although there are churches representing six denominations within a radius of five miles of Organ Cave. They are Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, Missionary Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Regular Baptist, and Pentecostal Holiness. The very first churches to serve this community were the Old Stone Presbyterian at Lewisburg and Lebanon, Scotch Covenantrr or Associate Reformed Presbyterian church in Monroe county.

There is no doubt that Rev. John McElhenny who was pastor of the Old Stone church for more than sixty years was instrumental in the organization of Salem church. In fact he was one of the members of the commission appointed by Greenbrier Presbytery for that purpose. Dr. McElhenny came to Lewisburg as pastor of the Old Stone church in 1809 and preached the Gospel throughout all the southern part of West Virginia. In reading the "Life and Works of Dr. McElhenny" written by Miss Rose Fry, one finds mention of the names of the early settlers of this community who were connected with activities concerning the Old Stone church. As this faithful minister grew older and his physical strength began to fail, he saw the necessity of dividing his work and getting another pastor for his flock on the south side of the river, so on March 2, 1860, Salem Presbyterian church was organized.

The commission appointed by the Presbytery of Greenbrier to organize Salem church consisted of Rev. John McElhenny, Rev. Samuel R. Houston and Rev. P. M. Custer.

The following ministers who have been regular installed pastors of Salem church are here named in the consecutive order of their pastorates.

Samuel R. Houston 1861 to 1872
Geo T. Lyle 1873 to 1880
J. W. Holt 1881 to 1888
L. A. McLain 1890 to 1891
Ben Harrop 1892 to 1915
F. P. Sydenstricker 1920 to 1924

There have been several periods of time of various lengths when the church would be without a pastor and would be served by supplies appointed by presbytery. The following is a list of the ministers who have preached at Salem church as supplies since its organization.

R. R. Houston, W. F. Wilhelm, S. R. Gammon, W. W. Pharr, F. W. Gray, J. E. Flow, R. L. McKinnon, and Robert R. Gray.

The congregation extended a call to Rev. Robert R. Gray who is now supplying the church, but it was his preference to not become a regular installed pastor.

During the pastorate of Rev. L. A. McLean, a branch church of Salem was built near R. D. Erwin's for the convenience of a number of families who lived in that locality which was at a distance not easily accessible to the church.

The congregation of Salem church has been housed in three different church buildings. All three buildings have stood on the same lot. The last two have been on one exact spot. The first church building was erected in 1860 just after the organization was formed. About 1875 or 76 the second church was built. The congregation had grown till the old church was inadequate to its needs. The second church was used for about thirty-five years.

On Sunday morning May 20, 1910 just as the people were assembling for the services, the church caught fire from a defective flue and burned to the ground.

By the summer of 1912, the third church was built and dedicated Rev. Thomas R. English of Richmond Virginia preached the dedicatory sermon.

The earliest Methodist Episcopal church in this community was called Trinity. Owing to insufficient data we are unable to give the date of the organization of this church. It is known for a fact, that this church was built before the Civil War because the soldiers camped in it during the war and let fire get out on the floor and burned a hole in it. Trinity and Mt. Vernon churches were at one time on the same circuit. After Trinity church became so dilapidated that, it could no longer be used, the congregation used the Patton school house for a house of worship. As a number of Methodist families lived in this locality it was fitting and convenient that the new church building be located nearby. Mrs. Elizabeth Rodgers who was a devout member of the congregation, donated a site for the new church building. It was built in 1894 and named Elizabeth Chapel in memory of Mrs. Rodgers.

The other churches beside the two above mentioned have all contributed their portion in the welfare of the community even though their membership has been in the minority.


Public schools were not established in the southern states as early as in the New England states, Pennsylvania, and other places. Prior to the Civil War, the youth of this section received their education by attending subscription schools.

Two of the earliest schools in this section were the Patton school near Elizabeth Chapel and an old log school house on the Matthew Humphreys farm just at the rear of H. E. Burdette's home. The winter following the Civil War, a subscription school was taught in Salem Church by Isaac H. LaRue. Mr. La Rue was the first teacher to introduce the blackboard in this section.

When the new state of West Virginia was born on June 20, 1863, no attempt had been made to establish free schools in the Virginias. The Constitution of the new state has a clause reading thus: "The Legislature shall provide by general law for a thorough and efficient system of free schools".

Following a war always comes the reconstruction and readjustment period. It was several years after the war, before the schools had reached a very high degree of efficiency. At that time there were very few women teachers and the only teachers that were available were either very old men or young boys. At that time, teachers and people in other public positions were required to take the amnesty or test oath and as the people in this section had fought for the Confederate cause, those who had been in the army could not take the oath.

There were no normal schools then and the uniform examination law had not been passed. At first, the applicant for a teacher's certificate was examined by the county superintendent and later each county had three men appointed composing the county board of examiners. J. Washington McDowell of this community was at one time a member of that board. Zachariah Trueblood was the first county superintendent of Greenbrier County.

The first public school to be built near Organ Cave, was called Chestnut Grove. It was located on the A. R. Jackson farm near Trinity church, on the old road leading to Ronceverte. After that part of the road was abandoned it was moved to the present location. The school term of 1926-27 was the last to be taught in the building called Chestnut Grove. The school is now housed in a modern consolidated school building erected during the summer of 1927 near the Seneca Trail.

For a period of several years beginning about 1870, a secondary or high school was conducted on the place now owned by R. C. Bruce. Rev. George Tate Lyle and Prof. Edgar H. Marquess were the instructors of this school. Many of the older people of this community attended this school in their youth.

For a few years, Miss Sarah Price taught a subscription school in a little log school house in the yard at the old Price homestead.


It is necessary for any group of civilized people to have a means of communication with each other and with other groups more distant removed. In pioneer times, roads were the only arteries of communication available, as the telephone, telegraph, and railroads were still in the future.

In order to get a better understanding of the part, roads have played in the history of our community, it will be necessary to go a little distance away from the immediate locality for a beginning.

Very early in the history of the nation, the White Sulphur Spring was known for its curative powers. By 1800 it was the favorite watering place and summer resort of the South. A stage road, called the James River and Kanawha Turnpike was built across the mountains, reaching from the tide-water country of Virginia to the falls of the Great Kanawha. This road ran through the White Sulphur Springs property. The Midland Trail or State Route No. 5 is nearly all on the same grade and route as the old turnpike.

Another famous resort of the early days was the Salt Sulphur Spring in Monroe county. The Salt Sulphur Turnpike was built from that resort to intersect with the James River and Kanawha Turnpike at Caldwell. Stagecoaches, hauling travelers and the mails ran over both turnpikes.

The Salt Sulphur Turnpike runs through the midst of Organ Cave Community. Since the invention of the automobile and the introduction of the nation-wide program of good roads, this historic old road has had to give way to a modern state highway called the Seneca Trail. The new road follows the old on nearly the same grade with the exception of a few places until it reaches Salem Church. There it turns to the northwest on its route to Ronceverte. The remainder of the old road on to Caldwell is just as it was in the days gone by, when the stage coach drawn by four spirited horses ran on it.

At stated places along the turnpikes, taverns or inns were built for the accommodation of the traveling public. Richard Dickson of Second Creek, used the large colonial house, now the home of his grandson C. F. Dickson, for a stagecoach tavern.

The stage drivers drove at a rapid gait all the time, regardless of steep hills. At stated intervals along the road, horses were changed and the others taken out to feed and rest.

The first road loading to the Greenbrier River from this community, left the Salt Sulphur Turnpike just opposite where J. O. White's barn now stands. It crossed the new state highway near a small cave in Mr. White's field, followed the line between White and Fullen to the top of the hill and on past Trinity church and the old Chestnut Grove schoolhouse, down the hiII by J. J. Morgans finally reaching the river at the old St. Lawrence ford near the present site of Honaker Brothers store. This road was built for a mill road to reach Edgar's mill which was then the only place of business on the site of the present town of Ronceverte. The town of Ronceverte was not built till the year of 1872. Prior to that time, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad only came west as far as White Sulphur. For a number of years, White Sulphur served as the railroad station for this locality.

The first road from Organ Cave to the Greenbrier was surveyed by a Mr. Curry, whose given name is unknown to the writer. It is the shortest and most direct route but by far the steepest grade. About the year of 1880 or possibly a little later the second road to the river was surveyed by William White, the first. It left the turnpike about half way between the site of the post office at that time, and Salem Church. It was upon the completion of this road that the postoffice was moved to its present site. This road was longer than the first but was a much better grade. A part of the first road has been abandoned, but the half of it next the river is still kept for the use of people whose homes are on it.

Participation in Wars

This community has contributed soldiers to every war in which the nation has participated since colonial times. We shall discuss briefly the part Organ Cave community has had in each war in the consecutive order in which they were fought.

Tristram Patton, the ancestor of the Pattons of this locality, was a schoolmaster living in Philadelphia when the American colonies revolted against the tyranny of England. He joined the Continental Army and was made a member of General Washington's bodyguard. After the close of the Revolutionary War, Tristram Patton with his brother Robert came to the colony of Virginia and took up land bordering on the waters of Second Creek in what is now Monroe County West Virginia. We know of one other Revolutionary soldier of this locality and that was Michael Rodgers,one of our very earliest settlers. There were probably some others whose names the writer was unable to get.

Some of the people of this community bore arms against England for the second time which was in the War of 1812. We have the names of two of them: Jacob Price and Henry Holesapple.

The Mexican War drew on our citizenry in the person of George Level. He was wounded by being shot in the eye. The bullet passed under the brain and came out on the back of his neck. Mr. Level lived to be about ninety-five years old and carried that bullet in his pocket as long as he lived, taking great interest in exhibiting it to his friends and telling about how near it cost him his life.

When the war clouds of the Civil War began to rise, the people of this community stood almost solid for State Rights. More soldiers of this locality followed General Lee to Appomatox than had been represented in any war before or since, not excepting the World War.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, this part of the country still belonged to the mother state of Virginia. Some time before war was declared, the state of Virginia had organized a company of militia in each district of every county. The company of soldiers of this locality was Company D, with Alex. R. Humphreys captain and J. Washington McDowelI first lieutenant. When war was declared, Company D entered as a volunteer company and was incorporated into Edgar's Battalion with Colonel George Edgar as commander.

There were no battles of the Civil War fought within the bounds of Organ Cave Community. The two closest battles were the battle of Lewisburg and at Greenbrier Bridge near Caldwell. Company D was engaged in the battle of Lewisburg and at that place Robert Humphreys son of Matthew Humphreys and the twin brother of Matthew N. Humphreys was killed. Other casualties of the Civil War were: William F. Level, the father of R. A. Level killed in the battle of Fayetteville. William Fleshman and Alexander Williams were killed in one of the battles of the "Valley Campaign" in Virginia. John Henry Sydenstricker died in prison in the state of New York.

Our community was represented in the Spanish-American War by two of our sons, namely Oscar A. Price and Emory Toothman.

At the outbreak of the war on April 26, 1898, Oscar A. Price was a first lieutenant in the West Virginia National Guard. He volunteered and was made second lieutenant of the First West Virginia volunteer infantry. He was promoted in rank from time to time and when the war closed was on the staff of Brigadier General McKee at Macon, Georgia.

Emory Toothman died in camp with typhoid fever. There were several of our young men in the World War.

William Lawrence Surgeon is the only name we have on our casualty list of the World War. He died of pneumonia at Camp Lee, Virginia shortly after the United States entered the conflict.

Noted Sons and Daughters

Among those prominent in religious work were Henry Alexander White, D. D., Ph. D., Presbyterian minister, and author; Addison Price, Presbyterian minister; and Mrs. Mary (Price) Carruth, Missionary to the Cherokee Indians in Indian Territory.

Miss Mary Price went to the western frontier when a young woman and it was there that she met and married Edwin H. Carruth, who was a government official connected with the Department of the Interior. Mrs. Ida (Carruth) Boone has her father's commission signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Harry Jackson, who is a Lutheran minister in Virginia was born in an adjacent community to Organ Cave and is a descendant of one of our oldest families.

Those who have been leaders in education work include the following: Harry C. Humphreys who holds a Ph. D. degree from Columbia University. He was for several years on the faculty of the West Virginia University at Morgantown. At the present he is Associate Professor in the Department of Education of the state University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Miss Gertrude Humphreys holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois. At the present she is Home Economics Specialist for the Extension Division of the College of Agriculture at Morgantown, West Virginia.

James Hubert Price is a prominent attorney at Richmond, Virginia. He has also served in the Virginia Legislature.

Richard R. Dickson is a practicing attorney at Union, West Virginia.

The names of those who have served the community in an official capacity in the past and at the present time are: Robert H. Boone, state senator; Richard D. Erwin and Clarence F. Dickson, members house of delegates; John H. Crawford, James E. Crawford, John S. Crawford, William A. Boone, C. Edwin Boone, Samuel H. McDowell, James M. Miller, J. William Miller, and Ira D. Humphreys, who have served either in the capacity of sheriff or that of deputy; Samuel N. Erwin and Elmer N. Jackson, assessors; John S. Crawford and Paul C. Hogsette, county clerks; and J. Washington McDowell and Henry W. Humphreys, county commissioners.

Among the physicians and pharmacists who were reared in Organ Cave Community are: Dr. John A. Jackson, prominent physician and surgeon, who is located at Ronceverte, West Virginia; James N. Dickson, pharmacist, located at Bridgewater, Virginia; and Leighton H. Rodgers, pharmacist, located at Beckley, West Virginia.

The community has also supplied one of the leading newspaper men of the state. William E. Price went into the office of the Greenbrier Independent when just a young boy. He learned the printer's trade under B. F. Harlow. At the present, he is editor and owner of the Independent Herald at Hinton, West Virginia.

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