Building of Longhorn Cavern State Park
THE NATIONAL CAVE OF TEXAS
by Melinda Luna PE | History & Heritage Committee Chair
The scenic beauty, the splendors which time and water have wrought…defy description.— NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, 1934
Company 854 of the Civil Conservation Corps worked from 1934 to 1942 under Captain H.C. Ireland to build Longhorn Cavern State Park. The company was made up of 186 men and had been stationed in Blanco State Park prior to being stationed in Longhorn Cavern. Under Captain Ireland there were several architects, planners, engineers, and others working to get the Landmark park complete.
Coronel Robert Orlando Whitaker served as state park engineer was involved in the project. He oversaw the building of the park. The first task was to clear right of way for the 5.5-mile caliche road to connect the park to then State Highway 66(US 281). C.T. Fohl drew the Horizontal curves for the road. The road included culverts, bridges, signing, overlooks, and headwalls made of native stone. Some of the 2.5 tons of debris was used to help build the road. Trails were also built along with waterlines, sewer, utilities such as powerlines, telephone etc. The Works Progress Administration would extend the Park road west to connect to RM 2342. Whitaker would rise to Lt General and had several engineering jobs that included helping to survey the Panama Canal to working as a municipal engineer alongside W. O. Washington along time ASCE leader.
In addition to the road there were three buildings built that are the administration building, the offers quarters, and the observation tower/water tower, these were under the direction of architects Samuel C Vosper and George Walling.
Located less than 90 minutes from Austin, Texas, Longhorn Cavern State Park is a unique Hill Country destination full of natural beauty and Texas-sized tales. — NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, 1934
M. J. Nash a mining engineer supervised the work in cavern itself. The work of removing debris to provide better access to visitors was done with pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The first challenge was to pump water out of the Lake Room. The cavern had to also be mapped that included tunnel profiles. Once mapped the plan for access was done and handrails, stairs, airshafts, walking areas that required stone walls, and 2 miles of illumination done.
Also included in the plans were mapping of fire zones and fire hazard reduction plans.
The site itself has had a long history of use. In 1932, various fossils were found including a 8-foot diameter petrified tree. There are some stories that it served as a powder mill during the civil war. Other stores say that the outlaw Sam Bass used to the cave. The site as part of ranch and during the 1920’s served as a dance hall where whiskey was served by candlelight. It was sold to the state in 1932. As it was being built the newspaper carried stories of the parks progress and billed it as the 3rd largest cavern in the US. A constant 64 degrees was an attraction during the early days of the park to get out of the summer heat.
The building of the park was a multi-disciplined effort. In 1971 the park was Dedicated as a National Natural Landmark. The National Natural Landmark program recognizes outstanding example of natural history. The Administration building would be dedicated at Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1989. Today the park is 79 years old and part of 120 state park system. It brings in more than 40,000 visitors a year. The best place to see the plans associated with building of the park is the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for the Texas Park civilian Conservation Corps Drawings Database at here.
Longhorn Cavern State Park is more than a beautiful cavern. Located atop Backbone Ridge, a small chain of beautiful limestone hills, Longhorn Cavern State Park and our sister park, Inks Lake State Park, have plenty of outdoor activities to fill your day.
Longhorn Cavern State Park is located at Coordinates: 30.6844365, -98.35101270000001. The location of the park is near Marble Falls, Texas just west of Austin.