Mitten History Goes South

South to Ohio, that is. I spent last weekend in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio, which is about 30 minutes southeast of Columbus. My husband and I went to college in Ohio and so we have quite a few friends all over the state. We got together with 9 other friends to spend the weekend in a cabin and catch up, as well as do some hiking at Hocking Hills State Park. I know Ohio is out of the scope of this blog, but I just can’t pass up the chance to talk about some cool history!

The Hocking Hills region is known for its unusual topography. The area is full of gorges, waterfalls and caves, all formed out of Blackhand sandstone. There are many different trails and sights to see, but the most popular, and the one that we visited, is known as Old Man’s Cave. I found it amusing that all my Ohio friends talked about “heading over to Old Man’s Cave” without seeming to realize how strange it sounds, but then again, I would never think twice about the name Miner’s Castle (at Pictured Rocks in the U.P.) which probably sounds just as weird!

Old Man’s Cave was beautiful. This is no tiny hole in a wall of rock – it is a massive overhang inside a gorge that is full of twists and turns and places to hide (and climb). But of course, what I was most interested in was the history. A place called Old Man’s Cave has got to have an interesting story behind it, right? The one historical marker I pounced on found stated that the cave was named after Richard Rowe, “a recluse who made the cave his home in the 1800s.” The marker went on to talk about the geology and climate of the area, leaving me curious about this Richard Rowe and how and why he made his home in the cave. So of course, after I got home, I looked it up.


As it turns out, there simply isn’t a lot known for sure about Richard Rowe. There are number of different stories about Rowe and the cave, but many of them seem to have details added in to make it more interesting. The basic facts, that run through all the stories, is that Richard Rowe migrated to the Hocking Hills area in the late 18th century from Tennessee, and that he spent at least some time living in the cave around 1796. Most sources claim he came to the area with his father and brother with the intention of starting a fur trade post, and then eventually settled in the area. After that, the stories often give conflicting information, or things that are obviously embellished. His brother may have worked on a freighter, or possibly married a Shawnee woman, and may have lived in the Ozarks or the Black Hills. Many versions of the story state that Rowe traveled the rivers in the area and “observed the events of the War of 1812,” whatever that means. Most stories claim he is buried somewhere in the cave, but nobody knows where.

A portion of Old Man's Cave

A portion of Old Man’s Cave

My favorite version tells a ridiculously detailed story of how Rowe went out hunting in the winter and wanted to get a drink from a frozen stream. He used the butt of his rifle to crack the ice, as he always did, but for some reason this time the action caused the rifle to go off, shooting him in the chin and killing him. His body was found a few days later by other trappers, who buried him in the cave. Great story, but….how would they know exactly how he died if he was alone at the time?!

Oh, and in keeping with the season, Old Man’s Cave might be haunted.

The stories of Old Man’s Cave might be not be entirely true, but hey, that’s what keeps history interesting. The cave, and Hocking Hills in general, are definitely worth checking out, if you ever find yourself in south-central Ohio. (Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll get back to Michigan content soon!)


Panorama of the gorge below the cave


One thought on “Mitten History Goes South

  1. Pingback: 2014: The Year of Museums | Mitten History

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