Ghost Town: Cave City, Kentucky

 

Last week my family spent an afternoon in Cave City, Kentucky on the way to visit my in-laws.   If you’ve been on that stretch of interstate, you’ve likely almost run off the road after spotting this life-size dinosaur replica right at the exit. DSC 4251 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky



In its heyday, Cave City was full of family fun and quirky roadside attractions:  Dinosaur World, Guntown Mountain, haunted houses and mazes, waterslides, putt-putt golf, bumper cars, train rides, etc.  Several of those are still in operation, but most of them are not.  Bigger and flashier amusement parks like Kentucky Kingdom and Beech Bend have all but sucked the life out of this once-booming tourist area.

DSC 4248 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky




I’ve always had a strange attraction to abandoned buildings.  I always want to stop and look at abandoned houses, abandoned barns, even abandoned businesses.  I can’t help but wonder who left them there just rotting away.  Why haven’t they been sold or torn down?  What were they like in their day?  Who just walked away?  So Cave City was some kind of strange and twisted delight for me, replete with abandoned roadside attractions.   I just couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures to share with you.  This abandoned souvenir store is appropriately named “Off the Beaten Path.”

DSC 4246 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky

 

 

 

 

DSC 4391 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky This is the old door at a no-longer-used entrance to Onyx Cave.  You can still enter the cave through the cave souvenir shop (which we did).

 

 

 

 Nothing like a little hillbilly golf.  The sign is still in pretty good shape, but the actual golf course hasn’t faired as well (as you’ll see below).

DSC 4241 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky





Yes, that’s a bathtub and toilet right in the middle of TW’s Redneck Golf.  Not sure if they were part of the original golf course, but I suppose there’s a “you’re-a-redneck-if” joke in there somewhere.

DSC 4244 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky






The discolored rhino and gorilla still guard the parking lot of this abandoned arcade.   No one has played Pac-Man here in a long time.

DSC 4240 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky





This roadside teepee built in the 1970’s was probably the backdrop for a lot of snapshots for tourists.  Who knew that Native Americans used hollow-core doors? DSC 4245 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky





This souvenir shop/trading post is still in business.  There’s just nothing I can say that is clever enough to capture the essence of this photo.

DSC 4238 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky





I guess some people are still buying firewood around here, because that truck doesn’t look very old.

DSC 4247 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky





The dark skies above these colorful but abandoned shops seem appropriate.  I love the kitsch of all of this, but there’s also a melancholic nostalgia about this place that haunts me.   It calls to mind childhood family trips to Pigeon Forge before Dollywood and outlet malls.  Does anyone else remember Hee-Haw Village? 

DSC 4234 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky

I



DSC 4383 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky I think you can safely say that this haunted house is a whole lot scarier now than when it was in business.




I cannot understand why any thinking person would abandon one Pizza Hut and build a new one right beside it.   Does that make good business sense?

2010 07 12 13.46.49 Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky



Don’t get me wrong.  There are several attractions that are still alive and . . . well, they are at least still alive.  Dinosaur World, Guntown Mountain, Kentucky Action Park, Mammoth Cave, various souvenir shops, and fast foods joints are among the businesses that are still in operation.  And maybe they will survive another decade if they capitalize on their strengths.  Because there are at least a few of us who are willing to pay a few bucks to spend some time in an honest-to-goodness ghost town.  And there’s a lot less traffic and shorter lines than in Kentucky Kingdom or Dollywood.



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pixel Ghost Town:  Cave City, Kentucky

Comments

  1. Dianne Tant says:

    I’ve been to those places in their hey-day…so sad now.

    • ky really doesnt boost about there attractions. I know this because I live there someplace around there. they dont promote or do anything to bring money into the area. so many poor live there too. theres a gold mine in the cave atractions, but, they dont do anything for a van to take tourists to the caves. if i had a van, I would offer rides to the caves several times a day and through the weekends. dont forget to go across the bridge to the wild animal park and museum on happy valley road. I never been in there and dont know what they offer. but, check it out. There is also a steak house beside it and grocery stores.

      • Mammoth Cave would not allow anyone to take vans of folks to another cave I bet… don’t fool around with the federal government.

        There was a broadcast on PBS, KET television recently about Mammoth Caves and all the other caves in the area… how they were discovered, how curious folks were to visit them… and so forth — it also showed how cave owners would take competitor signs down and reroute traffic to a certain cave… and vise versa… it’s very sad that all the attractions — which had to have cheap prices in their time — have gone under… because in order to compete now with big dollars… they would have to charge more and keep up with the times. Only the federal government has that capability.

  2. I would make a special trip to visit Cave City. Reminds me of stops along the way when I was a kid. Not sure my grandkiddos would enjoy it like I did, but who knows. LOL, I would be happy if they always remembered ‘the strange place Oma took us to visit’.

    • mam, you are not missing much if you do come here.

    • There is a little wildlife museum in Cave City. A great little camp ground called Jellystone park is there also. Those of us from here need to talk up our little town not put it down. Guntown Mt. was a great place to go as a kid. Our elem. school took us there once. It had a few rides, bumper cars, train ride to a petting zoo and games. Now it only has the wild west show on top of the Mt. I say support your local area if you want it to improve.

  3. sussi, you sound like my kind of grandma! your grandkids would LOVE it!

  4. Paul Martin says:

    Good post. Good photos. Good words.
    Thank you.

  5. My family loves traveling to see quirky roadside attractions like these, but mostly we stay on the East Coast. We have a blog,“Go BIG or Go Home,” which chronicles what happens when our small-town family visits the “world’s largest”…whatever!

  6. pam barnett says:

    What no pic’s from the lift? Your blog is going to my spam again, so I just opened this. Missed you last week.

  7. I write a column for Kentucky Monthly magazine called “Kentucky A to Z.” Every month, my editor chooses a town at random and I get 24 hours to travel there and find a story. You would be amazed by the number of similar ghost towns I’ve come across in my travels. Some of these towns are so far gone, people in nearby communities don’t even recognize the name of the town despite the fact that it is still on a Kentucky map. And I’ve noticed several abandoned Pizza Huts with a new location built next door or across the street. It is so wasteful!

  8. “Dinosaur World, Guntown Mountain, Kentucky Action Park, Mammoth Cave, various souvenir shops, and fast foods joints are among the businesses that are still in operation. And maybe they will survive another decade if they capitalize on their strengths.”

    I enjoyed this post, but I feel like I had to point something out. You list mammoth cave among all of the other roadside attractions in the area. Mammoth Cave is part of the large Mammoth Cave National Park. The cave itself is the largest known cave system in the world. It is still highly visited every year. It is hardly a tourist trap/roadside attraction like the other places you have listed.

  9. buk,
    you are correct, of course. thank you for pointing that out.

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  17. pople here in avve city do not take pride in their bussinesses at all. many have gone down…horse cave is a complete ghost town now. depressing area totally. it loked like it was a boom town at one time, but, it is not no more. i am talking about the downtown area. if you blink, you will miss it. to depressing to keep your eyes open to drive through.

  18. the reason they built a new pizza hut their is because the old building was privately owned and the building as worn out and to costly to repair. The roof leaked badly and it was moldy i thing. the restaurant chain updated their buildings and built new ones.

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  22. I used to go there all the time as a kid; it was a blast; I still live about 15 min away; but not much reason to go anymore

  23. The biggest issue is it being a DRY county.. Bowling green is not aka beech bend… Jellystone is still alive and well and is super fun to visit. Cave city folks need to liven up

  24. I live in Cave City… In a charming farm house in the middle of a beautiful, well kept farm. I lived in a somewhat larger city before but having lived here for 2 years now, I love it and in don’t plan on moving anytime in the near future. Just like in most counties, there are “nice” parts and “rough” parts. The outer area of Cave City is something to be proud of. There is such beautiful farm land and charming barns and country homes. Nothing makes me feel like I do when I see a big field of beautifully rolled hay. On the other hand, the town itself is definitely a shame for the most part. We have beautiful caves and some nice little restaurants, but most of the motels are full of monthly renters who take little to no care for the rooms nor themselves. The abandoned historical homes and businesses make me sad. I have a dream of owning a business, however, most of the community is poverty stricken, on welfare and cannot afford entertainment, crafts and other enjoyable things. For most of the open businesses, the owners do not take pride. I went into a thrift store the other day, having so much potential, but because it smelled so nasty, I cant bring mysel to go back. I wish we could get a movie theater and nice restaurants… We get bored sometimes!

  25. The haunted house is only open around Halloween I know cause I live in cave city and my family worked ther

  26. Allie Mae Baker says:

    Unfortunately Guntown closed :( I worked there for several years, it has so much potential! Makes me sad :'( Rumor is that it might reopen since it has new owners

  27. That new Pizza Hut used to be Taco Bell and they closed it…. It’s a little less wasteful knowing that they didn’t just rebuild an entirely new building. Also Cave Citt just voted to sell packaged liquor so I think it will help a little bit with the economy there. They really are trying!

    • Actually, they tore down the old Taco Bell building when it went out of business and built a new Pizza Hut building on the site.

      Why they 1. left the old one standing (I worked there in the 70s, sniff sniff) and 2. Never got another Taco Bell to replace it is a mystery that has vexed area residents for years now.

  28. The tee pee that was built in the 1970’s and used as a backdrop for many tourist snap shots, in reality, was built in the late ’90s and hardly ever noticed by tourists. And yes the bath tub and toilet were part of the golf course’s original scenery when it became TW’s Redneck Golf.

  29. The economy sucks, if you live within hours of mammoth cave you can look back from your childhood and I’m sure you had the best time. Everything old needs money to function.

  30. Cave city gets the most business during its annual dollar days because let’s grace it mist of ththe surviving attractions are a joke. The wildlife museum has been the same since I was a kid. Nothing new added, animals showing signs of decay and it mist a family of four about $30 to see it which takes 20 mins, Dinosaur world is educational but not worth 12 dollars a person to see statues. Jesse James riding stables is worth the money for a trail ride. Ky action park ok but the rest cost to much

  31. when i was in 3rd grade i remember going in that enterance to the onyx cave, kinda sad that most everything here has gone to waste, ive lived in cave city since i was born, and its really not all that scary nor was it ever really that great to be honest, but btw they closed the old pizza hut bc there was a taco bell where the new one is, and it burned down on the inside so they tore it down, then built a new pizza hut after the inside of the old one burned up as well.

  32. I pass through Cave City every time I go home, in fact that exit is the closest one to home. I remember when my youth group at church went to Guntown Mnt. years ago. Okay maybe like 7 years ago, but I remember then my mom said it wasn’t like it was when she took my older brother. Dinosaur world was the coolest thing ever and the mini golf courses were still open. Mammoth cave is an attraction I’ve visited quite a bit and there is always something new to learn. The wildlife there is AMAZING, not just at the parks but the area it’s self. Someone pointed out the scenery. You can get lost just driving, places that GPS can’t find. I’m partial to following the back roads home than the interstate, but that’s just me. I’ve actually written a post myself about the attractions in Kentucky at masondixionbelle.wordpress.com I covered the attractions between Louisville and Bowling Green/ Franklin, including mammoth cave.

  33. I pass through Cave City every time I go home, in fact that exit is the closest one to home. I remember when my youth group at church went to Guntown Mnt. years ago. Okay maybe like 7 years ago, but I remember then my mom said it wasn’t like it was when she took my older brother. Dinosaur world was the coolest thing ever and the mini golf courses were still open. Mammoth cave is an attraction I’ve visited quite a bit and there is always something new to learn. The wildlife there is AMAZING, not just at the parks but the area it’s self. Someone pointed out the scenery. You can get lost just driving, places that GPS can’t find. I’m partial to following the back roads home than the interstate, but that’s just me. I’ve actually written a post myself about the attractions in Kentucky at masondixionbelle.wordpress.Con I covered the attractions between Louisville and Bowling Green/ Franklin, including mammoth cave.

  34. Put away all the electronics, Pack a lunch or visit one of the local restaurants, & take the entire family & friends for an entire day out, Enjoy the scenery, cave, parks, play games, do what there IS to do locally

  35. I live in Cave City Ky., and I agree the town is not the same as it was in the 70’s when I was a teenager. My first job was working at Mammoth Cave Wax Museum when there was always a line waiting to check out and buy onyx rings or Fenton. By the same token the tourists are not the same as in the 70’s. Gone are the vacations to “look and see” now we have to be entertained every second with high tech that small towns like Cave City can’t compete with.
    That is not to say that Cave City and surrounding areas don’t have things to offer. First we have Mammoth Cave National Park. Not every community has a National Park in their back door. Along with the park there is Green River, a wonderfully beautiful river you can canoe down, it is a slower pace of life but you can fish, camp, hike and enjoy nature. There are still small amusement attractions available in the area, which include huge slides, chair lifts, bumper cars, there are also Zip Lines that go down “knob’s” (for you out-of-state people that is a huge hill not tall enough to be a mountain – we have many of those in the area) there is even Zip Lines through the trees tops in the park area.
    Some of the other area attractions include:
    Shooting ranges, Kentucky Down Under, Barren River Lake, Nolin Lake, Guntown Mountain, Park Mammoth Resort, Diamond Cavers, golf courses, horseback riding, antiques, and many more.
    Cave City is working on making a more eye pleasing town both by the interstate and downtown.. Newer hotels are being built and the older ones are being updated. True, many old hotels need to be demolished but there is change happening. During the summer, the Cave City Proud Committee and area businesses sponsors live music provided by local bands, where the streets are closed and locals and tourist alike bring lawn chairs and relax listening to music and eating hamburgers and hotdogs.
    As with many areas, the Wal-Marts and big chain stores have made life hard on small businesses, but Cave City is working on getting more traffic to the downtown area so that more diverse business will open their doors in Cave City.
    I am sure anywhere you go there are areas that need some tender loving care, and there is always someone who lives in the area that isn’t happy unless they tear down what progress is being made. But Cave City and all of South Central Kentucky still have many things to offer, it may be at a slower pace, but sometimes it is nice to stop and smell the roses, trees, wildflowers, and maybe see a deer or turkey along the way.

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  1. […] attractions being shuttered and abandoned, (check out a great blog post on this topic at The Decorologist) the way the cave system is presented has undergone a considerable revision.  When Cheryl and I […]

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