History from Connecting Rural Ohio

Canter’s Cave is a 4-H camp located off of Cave Road, just east of U.S. Route 35 in southern Ohio. It is situated in Jackson Township in northeastern Jackson County, which recorded a population of 32,641 in the 2000 Census. Jackson Township was admitted by county commissioners July 1, 1816, and recorded a population of 1,296 people in 2000. While no municipalities are located within the township, the closest communities to Canter’s Cave include Raysville and Swiftsville, while the county seat, Jackson, is five miles to the southeast.

Situated on the east side of Little Salt Creek, a small branch of nearby Salt Creek, Canter’s Cave is actually a pair of natural shelters. The valley of the stream running by the caves is very narrow, forming a typical "hollow" with high, precipitous walls, created through the erosion of the rock and soil, gradually lowering the streambed.

Echo Cave, the larger of the two, measures 108 feet wide and 55 feet deep at its extremes. The floor of the cave is roughly oval and drops off sharply to a spring of water. The roof of the cave, at the opening, is about 50 feet high and gradually lowers toward the back. The lower part of the cave is covered with ferns and mosses, and the water that seeps down its wall contains various mineral substances. The buildup of sand, soil and ashes inside the shelter varies from one foot thick to four feet. Several sandstone boulders have fallen from above and lie within the shelter.

The second shelter, known as Indian Cave, lays a short walk downstream from Echo Cave. It is somewhat smaller then Echo Cave, but is somewhat triangular in shape and has a low, oval extension about 30 feet long, two to three feet high and eight to sixteen feet deep. Huge fragments of rock have broken away, littering the floor of the cave.

Over the centuries, prehistoric animals visited Salt Creek and Little Salt Creek, attracted by the water, shelters and extensive salt licks located along their banks. Many fossilized bones have been discovered over the years in and around the salt deposits. Tusks, grinders, ribs, vertebrae and other remains of the woolly mammoth, mastodon and other prehistoric animals have been found in the area, embedded in the mud and clay. Remains of buffalo, elk, deer, bears, panthers, wolves, wildcats, lynxes, foxes, raccoons, wild turkeys and other smaller animals have also been found in and near the caves.

Prehistoric Hopewell inhabitants, Shawnee and other modern Indians and early European pioneers all were attracted to the area, not only for the water and salt, but also for the sustenance the abundant wild game in the surrounding forests afforded them. Jackson County contains many mounds and other prehistoric human remains. Within ten miles of the county’s center, 170 burial mounds, a score of camp and village-sites, several earthworks and a set of petroglyphs (rock pictures) have been found. The earliest European settlers of Jackson Township generally migrated from eastern lands in Virginia and Pennsylvania, many after travelling to Chillicothe – the first and third state capital of Ohio in adjoining Ross County.

A legend that explains how Canter’s Cave was named tells about an army officer named James Canter joining former Vice President Aaron Burr in a scheme to lead a militia to invade Mexico. As the myth goes, once federal forces dispersed the soldiers and arrested Burr, Canter wandered southern Ohio in disgrace and became a hermit and lived out the rest of his life in the cave.

Another story describes how Canter’s Cave was named for John and Thomas Canter, Easterners who traded for some land in Pickaway County after the Revolution. They were turned back by government troops attending to “Indian troubles” in the area, so they waited for the trouble to pass by spending the entire winter living in the shelters. In 1816, someone predicted the world was coming to an end, and the Canters and some neighbors took refuge at the cave. While the day passed uneventfully, the cave was named after the numerous members of the Canter family who waited there that day.

Historically, the principal industries of Jackson County have been salt boiling, agriculture, coal and iron ore mining, and brick making. At first, the coal mining was done in small drift mines, and the coal was transported to blacksmith shops operating in Chillicothe. Later, most of the coal was stripped from the surface of the ground.

In the twenty years before the American Civil War, iron of sufficient quantity to make cannon were found in only three places in the world: Turkey, Spain and southern Ohio. Large furnaces were built in the early days of the county to smelt the valuable ore. The Jackson, Keystone and Buckeye Furnaces were built nearby before the area’s first railroad, the Hocking and Scioto Railroad, was built in 1851 to connect the county to Portsmouth on the Ohio River. The furnaces quickly developed into communities with homes, churches, schools and company stores.

Near the turn of the century, Canter’s Cave became an attraction for visitors holding picnics and staying in cabins for weekend getaways. In 1925, George N. Miller owned the land on which the Canter’s Cave shelters are located, and he worked to convert the site into a pleasure resort. In the process, he discovered and donated to museums many fossils, including flint chips and animal and bird bones, including the first evidence of the Mississippi Kite in Ohio.

4-H bought Canter's Cave in 1949 and later expanded the holdings to more than 350 acres. Canter’s Cave serves as the site of summer camps for 4-H programs in 10 southeastern Ohio counties: Adams, Brown, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pike, Scioto and Vinton. Most of the camp activities are held there at the Elizabeth L. Evans Outdoor Education Center. The camp is supported by and the center is named for the family of Bob Evans, a famous restaurateur and native of the nearby city of Gallipolis. Canter's Cave also is the site of numerous other activities, such as banquets, weddings, retreats, outdoor and historical seminars and trade fairs.