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Smoke Hole Caverns

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ANDREA LANNOM / The State Journal ANDREA LANNOM / The State Journal

Geology and Whiskey Meet in Smoke Hole Caverns


If the walls of Smoke Hole Caverns could talk, they could tell quite the story. 

They would tell how they were made millions of years ago after the North American and African plates collided to create the Appalachian Mountains — how acidic water and carbon dioxide hollowed out limestone, forming the caverns. 

Named after the Seneca tribe's usage of smoking meat, the caverns could also tell stories of Civil War soldiers who stored their ammunition there or the whispered conversations of West Virginia moonshiners, who used its fresh water supply and cover to make their corn whiskey. 

Parts of its history adorn its walls, such as the columns, stalactites and stalagmites. And it shows off its more man-made history, such as the corn whiskey still and jugs. 

Some of the cave's interesting formations include the world's longest ribbon stalactite, the Queen's Canopy and crystal cave coral or popcorn-like formations, which are found in only one other cavern. 

And it's still creating history. According to the resort's website, Smoke Hole Caverns is an active cave, "accumulating 1 cubic inch of new deposits every 120 years." 

The caverns opened for tours in 1942. Current owner Janet Hendrick bought it in the late 1970s. Before owning the caverns and the Smoke Hole Resort, she and her husband were school teachers. 

"We were up at my father-in-law's on a Sunday, and the judge from Moorefield said Smoke Hole was for sale. He said that me and my husband should buy it," Hendrick recalled. "We used to have a farm up at Seneca, and that's how we bought it. I sold all of my cattle and gave a down payment on Smoke Hole Caverns. It went on from there." 

Hendrick said the caverns are the main draw, but they are part of a bigger entity, encompassing cabins, a conference center and West Virginia's largest souvenir and gift shop.  

"We are on vacation 365 days a year and don't even know it," she said pointing out the car window at the sweeping vistas and tall cliff faces of the Smoke Hole Canyon. 

However, running the resort has not been easy. Hendrick said her gift shop recovered from a 1985 flood that destroyed everything and resurrected from the ashes of a 2009 arson. 

Now, Hendrick says people come to the resort from all areas of the world, estimating there are several thousand visitors a year. 

"We have a lot of repeat business. The people that rented that big house," she said pointing to a house adjacent to the cabins, "have been coming here for 30 years." 

The resort area sees weddings, reunions and vacationers alike. It's also where Hendrick calls home.