Seneca Caverns and Harper's Store
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by Ben Crookshanks
Much of the area along the eastern border of West Virginia is limestone country and thus there are a number of caves in the region. The most famous are in the Greenbrier ValleyLost World and Organ Cave. But, the largest known cave in the state is in Pendleton County.
Experts estimate Seneca Caverns were discovered and used by the Seneca Indians sometime around 1400 A.D. In 1742, explorer Laven Teter discovered the entrance and became the first white man to set foot in the caverns. Commercial tours did not begin until 1928. The first visitors carried lanterns to illuminate their way. This type of lighting left a lot to be desired. In 1930, installation of electric lighting was a big improvement. It is important to have the right amount of light to fully appreciate the eerie beauty of a cave. Light also adds a measure of safety. Surfaces inside a cave are very irregular and you need to see where you are stepping.
The caverns have an abundance of flowstone formations. Flowstone looks like a frozen waterfall. It is a glistening creamy white stone with particles of embedded calcite which reflects the light. One of the rooms has been dubbed the Grand Ballroom. It measures 60 feet long, l30 feet wide and 70 feet high. There is a natural balcony at the back wall. Several hundred people could easily be accommodated in the Grand Ballroom. Other formations have names such as Niagara Falls Frozen Over, The Capitol Dome, Seneca Indians Counsel Room, Princess Snowbird in Stone and Fruit Chimney to name a few. Mirror Lake is an underground pool that reflects the image of the overhead formations in the cave.
The guided tour of Seneca Caverns covers a 3/4-mile passage and lasts approximately 50 minutes. As with all caves, the temperature remains a constant 54 degrees year round. Outside you can try your hand at panning for minerals. You buy a bag of mining rough at the gift shop, then take it to the water sluice and pan it in the water to see what you come up with. There are such minerals as garnets, rose quartz, fools gold, rubies, emeralds and many other types of stones. You get to keep anything you find.
Seneca Caverns are 3 miles southeast of Riverton, WV off Rt. 33 and 28. They are open year round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Group rates are available. For more information you can call: 1-800-239-7647 or visit their web site: www.senecacaverns.com
Just six miles from Seneca Caverns is Harpers Old Country Store, which has been in business since 1902. Joe Harper, grandson of the original owner, has kept the store pretty much the way it was. There is the same oiled hardwood floors, which need to be re-oiled from time to time. The ceiling is antique embossed metal and the shelves are the original ones that have been in the store for over 100 years. On display are relics from the old days. Such things as an original (non-working) moonshine still, antique cash register, pot bellied cast iron stove and a mounted black bear.
Although it is still very much a general store with a variety of hardware in the back storeroom, Harpers today caters to the growing tourist trade.
As stated earlier Harpers is located 6 miles from Seneca Caverns at the intersection of Highway 33 and 55 in Seneca Rocks. While you are there check out the Front Porch Restaurant upstairs where you can go out on the porch and dine alfresco. The store is open from 7 a.m. to 8:30p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Phone 304-567-2586