Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meramec Caverns

Once upon a time, it was common to see barns and farm buildings painted not in the standard red, but covered in advertisements. Tourist areas, soft drinks, tobacco, and towns all had their names splashed on the sides and roofs of isolated rural buildings, far from the city but close to the roads.

This is an original advertisement for Meramec Caverns, and is located just outside the town of Cayuga, Illinois, right along Route 66. Meramec Caverns is a 4 mile cavern system in the Ozarks, and was originally discovered as a source of saltpeter. During the Civil War, a gunpowder factory was actually in the caverns-it was destroyed by a group of Confederate soldiers, a force that included the famed outlaw Jesse James, who would return to the area during his career and use the caverns as a hideout.

After the war, the caves became popular with locals, who would hold large parties and dances in the caves to beat the heat in the summer time-in fact, a large room a few hundred feet from the entrance was nicknamed "The Ballroom". Dancing continued until the early 1900's, and they were largely unused until the 1930's. This was when Lester Dill, owner of nearby Fisher's Cave, purchased the caverns with an aim to opening it for public tours. Gradually, Dill and his employees started to explore further, and it was several years before the full extent of the caverns was discovered.

It was around this time that Lester Dill began to aggressively promote Meramec Caverns, which included billboards and painted barns all along both Routes 44 and 66 (as well as introducing the bumper sticker). In 1960, Meramec Caverns also began to rent out billboard space-inside the caverns, claiming they're the only underground billboards in the world. Currently, billboards for Meramec Caverns can still be seen all along the highways in Missouri and Illinois.

Barnside signs like this are no longer allowed, but older ones are grandfathered in. This one was restored by volunteers about a decade ago, and looks great.

No comments:

Post a Comment