ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — An expansion project at War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake has led to a piece of history being discovered.
KNWA/FOX24 traveled inside parts of the cave that up until recently, have been inaccessible for thousands of years.
It took War Eagle Cavern General Manager Guy Schiavone and his team two months of back-breaking work to open up more cave passageways. Schiavone said the task has been a plan for years, but War Eagle Cavern never had the money or manpower to accomplish it until now.
He said it was one of the most exhausting projects he’s ever worked on since it was all done by hand.
“Basically it was just shoveling as much as you could into buckets and wheelbarrows, and then carry it all out,” said Schiavone.
If you’ve visited before, guides have taken you through a half mile of the cavern, but now, there’s about 200 more feet of the cave to see. One of those guides is Assistant Manager Joanna Gastineau.
“A lot of people that have been here before are already really excited about being able to come see more of the cave than they had before,” said Gastineau.
Gastineau said her favorite part of the cave is its natural beauty, and Schiavone loves teaching people about the history behind it. When people come to visit, they won’t just be admiring stalactites, they’ll walk the same ground as those who built Northwest Arkansas.
Schiavone said the cavern was used by soldiers fleeing the Civil War battlefields, men making moonshine in its waters during prohibition, and those left homeless from the Great Depression found refuge in the cave. Throughout the decades, many visitors left behind their signatures etched into the cavern walls.
While uncovering the new parts of the cavern, Schiavone discovered a well-known name dating back more than 150 years before the rest of the carvings.
“So we were down there one day. We’re figuring out where are we going to install the light fixtures and where are we going to put this walkway. As we were doing that, we looked over at the wall and said, ‘Hey, there’s some scratches on the wall right there.’ Then I looked closer at it, and I said, ‘That says “Blackburn”. Isn’t that the guy who built the War Eagle Mill down the road?'” said Schiavone.
Schiavone said finding the family name “Blackburn” inside the cavern officially links it to the mill, which was a vital resource to many first settlers of the 1800s.
“We can’t be in that era, but we can certainly learn about it, and see what happened during that time,” said Gastineau.
Schiavone is confident his discovery, as well as the new pathways, will be enjoyed by thousands for years to come and said all the hard work was worth it.
This entire region, all of us here in this part of Northwest Arkansas, we’re all linked and we’re all connected to each other,” said Schiavone.
The War Eagle Cavern opens back up for the 2023 season at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 4, and will be open seven days a week.