Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Hersey, Mark D.

Committee Member

Giesen, James C.

Committee Member

Marshall, Anne E.

Committee Member

Hui, Alexandra E.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of History


Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest known cave in the world. This dissertation examines the history of how scientists and non-scientists alike contributed to a growing body of knowledge about Mammoth Cave and how that knowledge in turn affected land use decisions in the surrounding neighborhood. During the nineteenth century visitors traveled through Mammoth Cave along with their guides, gaining knowledge of the cave by using their senses and spreading that knowledge through travel narratives. After the Civil War, cave guides, now free men who chose to stay in the neighborhood, used the cave as a way to build and support their community. New technologies and new visitors reconstructed the Mammoth Cave experience. Competing knowledge of locals and science-minded individuals, new technologies to spread the cave experience, and a growing tourism industry in America spurred the Kentucky Cave Wars during the late-nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, cutthroat competition between caves crystallized support for a national park at Mammoth Cave. Park promoters met resistance. Cave owners’ knowledge of what they owned underground helped them resist condemnation. Those affected by the coming of the national park made their protests known on the landscape, in newspapers, and in courtrooms. The introduction of New Deal workers, primarily the Civilian Conservation Corps, at Mammoth Cave and a skeleton staff of National Park Service officials faced antagonism from the local community. Important discoveries inside Mammoth Cave hastened the park’s creation, but not without lingering bitterness that would affect later preservation efforts. The inability of the park promoters to acquire two caves around Mammoth Cave was a failure for the national park campaign but a boon for exploration. The postwar period saw returning veterans and their families swarming national parks. While the parking lots at Mammoth Cave grew crowded and the Park Service attempted to balance preservation and development for the enjoyment of the visiting public, underground explorers were pushing the cave’s known extent to new lengths. This new knowledge inspired a new generation of environmentalists and preservationists to use the Wilderness Act to advocate for a cave wilderness designation at Mammoth Cave National Park.