Progress Notes

Joe Pryor - News Tribune Article Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday, June 9, 2008

Progress Notes

This week I wanted to return to the caves of Miller County and discuss Stark Caverns, the largest cave in Miller County and one which had an early history of public awareness and popularity. The best discussion of the history of the cave, I think, is that written by Dwight Weaver in his book, History and Geography of Lake of the Ozarks. Dwight, as I have written before, is a member of the Miller County Historical Society as well as a member of our museum committee. He is recognized nationally as one of the true experts on caves and geological formations, primitive cultures, and more recently, as a historian regarding his three books about the Lake of the Ozarks area. His last book, Missouri Caves In History And Legend, returns to the subject of caves and is particularly interesting as Dwight weaves anecdotes and history together which makes for entertaining reading. Dwight's books can be bought online from sources such as or or you can purchase directly from him at:

Phone: 573 365 1171

But now I will copy what Dwight has to say about Stark Cave/Caverns of Miller County:

Stark Caverns

Dwight Weaver

Stark Caverns/Fantasy World Caverns near Eldon (photo 01) was opened to the public in 1950 and was in continuous operation until recently. The cave is privately owned.

01 Stark Caverns Entrance
01 Stark Caverns Entrance

Very few caves have had as many names as this cave. It's most recent names…Stark Caverns, Enchanted Caverns and Fantasy World caverns…have all been promoted since it was opened to the public 55 years ago. But even in its pre- commercial years, it had more than one name. It was also Aurora Cave, Aurora Springs Cave, Aurora Caverns, Miller County Cave, and the Mammoth Cave of Miller County. Old newspaper articles and postcards published between 1886 and 1950 document all of these names (photo 02 and photo 03).

02 Stark Caverns Fountain of Youth
02 Stark Caverns Fountain of Youth

03 Stark Caverns
03 Stark Caverns

The road to Fantasy World Caverns is located about one mile southwest of the junction of Highways 54 and 52 south of Eldon. The cave can be found near the bottom of a steep hill at the end of Cave Road. The entrance, 55 feet wide and 8 to 14 feet high, is in an outcrop of rock at the head of a small valley.

One thousand to 2000 years ago, the cave was a burial site and frequent camping area for Late Woodland Indians. When it was first seen by European and American settlers isn't known but the presence of the cave became well known locally after the property was purchased around 1836 by William Bunker, a veteran of the War of 1812. He lived above the cave in a log cabin with his six children. Here his children grew up and he died in 1869. The property was later bought by Elisha V. Stark, whose name became permanently associated with the cave.

(Note: The genealogy website listed below as well as the newspaper article cited later indicates that Elisha's father, Charles, was the purchaser of the farm which had the cave.)

It was generally spoken of as "Stark's Cave," which inspired the men who opened the cave to the public years later to name it Stark Caverns. Although the words "cave" and "caverns" are synonyms of one another, the public tends to regard a cavern as being larger than a cave, so the developers used the word caverns to give it greater consumer appeal.

The cave's late nineteenth century and early twentieth century history is intimately associated with the history of Aurora Springs.

One of the very first news stories about the cave appeared November 11, 1886, in the Jefferson City Daily Tribune. In the article, the cave was called "Miller County's Mammoth Cave." The story was quite fanciful and the cave's length, grandeur and size exaggerated, but the story reveals that at that time the cave still possessed much of it secondary beauty in the form of stalactites and stalagmites.

What is significant here is that between 1886 and 1950, a great many of these natural adornments were broken and removed from the cave by visitors, souvenir hunters and vandals. The scars of this damage are still visible in the cave. This sad fact was alluded to in 1932 when Flanders Cave, less than one mile southwest of Stark Caverns, was being opened to the public.

"Flanders Cave," said the newspaper story, "is in its natural state within and the management will have the beautiful display of stalagmites and stalactites protected so that they cannot be broken off and carried away as has been done in Aurora Cave."

In Aurora Springs boom days, large parties of people would leave Aurora Springs following an old wagon road that led south two miles to the cave, and there spend a day picnicking and exploring the cave or attending a dance. One such trip was described in the "Versailles Leader" on June 22, 1900, and, while fun to read, also documents how the cave's beauty was treated. In part the article said:

"Perusing our course we arrived at 11:00 a.m. After a short rest, dinner was spread and the feast began…Dinner over, the always welcome Kodak was brought into requisition and a group picture of the party was taken. Then the cave, which was found to be the largest and most interesting we've ever seen. Room after room was visited and many specimens and souvenirs were obtained…"

Lengthy accounts of visits to the cave appear in early newspapers. In 1901 three local boys, one of whom…E.H. Shepherd…would grow up to become the publisher of the Eldon Advertiser, got lost in the cave when they lost their lights. The rescue generated considerable local publicity. The boys were unhurt. Shepherd never tired of retelling the tale of the rescue and published it several times in the Eldon Advertiser.

At different times between 1890 and 1920, dance floors were built in the cave's ballroom about 300 feet inside but the floors never lasted long due to the humidity of the cave and periodic flooding by the cave stream. The dance floor was used for both roller skating and square dancing, winter and summer. In the winter, cold air from the large entrance would often freeze ponded areas of the shallow cave stream back for 50 yards or more into the cave and local youths would ice skate inside the cave.

On May 11, 1950, Stark caverns was opened to the public by Jim Banner and R.L. Wilkerson of Camdenton, who were involved in the development of Bridal Cave in 1948. Also participating in the development of Stark Caverns was F.L. Hammitt and Sons of Eldon. The following year F.L. Hammitt purchased the interest of Banner and Wilkerson, Kenneth B. Sweet of Waynesville, was also instrumental in the cave's development. Later, the cave was sold to Harvey and Vivian Fry of Eldon.

In 1967, during Fry's ownership, Indian burials were discovered in the cave by two Eldon boys…Glen Bashore and Kent Buehler…who were summer guides at the cave. About 1971, the cave's ownership changed and it was briefly operated as Enchanted Caverns. In the mid 1970's, the cave again changed ownership when it was purchased by Glen Whitman and David Marose of Osage Beach and their associates. The cave underwent new interior and exterior development and was reopened in 1975 as Fantasy World Caverns. The cave is currently owned by Curtis Whitman, a son of the late Glen Whitman.

Thanks Dwight.

One item associated with Stark Cave was an old coal lamp which Dwight Weaver, author of the narrative above, donated to our museum. This lamp was used as a source of light for tours of the cave many years ago (photo 04).

04 Stark Caverns Oil Lamp - 1910
04 Stark Caverns Oil Lamp - 1910

Here are a couple of more photos of the cave published by Dwight (photo 05 and photo 06).

05 Inside Stark Cave
05 Inside Stark Cave
Click image for larger view

06 Inside Stark Cave 2
06 Inside Stark Cave 2
Click image for larger view

Charles Stark, the second owner of the farm which had the cave and whose surname became associated with the cave for many years, was a member of one of Miller County's early families. His family tree can be traced back to Scotland to a John Stark I who was born in 1639. Charles' son, Elisha, was well known around Miller County. An entry in the Tuscumbia Autogram January 2, 1913 (photo 07) records the following:

07 Old Article
07 Old Article
Click image for larger view

"Uncle Elisha Starks was in our city Tuesday paying his taxes. Mr. Starks is the youngest son of a family of 19 children, all of whom, save one, lived long enough to have a family and make a confession of religion. The noted Starks Cave took the name from Uncle Charley Starks who was the father of this remarkable family. Mr. Starks (Charley) was twice married, his second wife died at the home of her son, Elisha Starks, about one year ago at the advanced age of 92 years."

Here is one genealogical window of Charles Stark's immediate family. You can click on the highlighted areas to go forward or backward as well as get the original website URL:

Charles STARK

10 Dec 1802 - 22 Jul 1882

ID Number: I54622

  • OCCUPATION: Stark Caverns was located on their land.
  • RESIDENCE: of Newberry Dist. SC and Morgan now Miller Co. MO
  • BIRTH: 10 Dec 1802, South Carolina
  • DEATH: 22 Jul 1882, Miller formerly Morgan Co. Missouri
  • RESOURCES: See: Notes [S1985] [S2809]

Father: James STARK

Family 1 : Sally AMOS

  • MARRIAGE: 1823, Cole Co. MO
  1.  James STARK
  2.  Benjamin Amos STARK
  3.  Elizabeth STARK
  4.  Rebecca STARK
  5.  Nancy STARK

Family 2 : Elizabeth MANES

  • MARRIAGE: 13 Jun 1836, Morgan Co. Missouri
  1.  Mary "Polly STARK
  2.  Sarah STARK
  3. +Margaret STARK
  4.  Vianna STARK
  5.  Eliza Jane STARK
  6.  Lewis Manes STARK
  7.  Samuel J. STARK
  8.  William Shelton STARK
  9.  Martha E. STARK
  10.  John Daniel STARK
  11.  Permelia Ann STARK
  12.  Elvira STARK
  13.  Elisha Vaughan STARK


"SECOND GENERATION CHILDREN OF CHARLES AND ELIZABETH (MANES) STARK (#2): see children's records. She married in Morgan County, Missouri, on June 13, 1836 to Charles Stark, born December 10, 1802 in South Carolina. Charles was a widower with children (he had married in 1823 in Cole County, Missouri, to Sally Amos, and had three daughters, Elizabeth, Rebecca and Nancy). They resided in Morgan County until in 1860 their farm was incorporated into Miller County. Their farm was in Franklin Township, and the present day Stark Caverns was located on their land. Charles died in Miller County on July 22, 1882; Elizabeth died there December 3, 1911. They had fourteen children and one hundred and thirty-one children, but all the names are not known."


                                             _Thomas STARK I_________+
                                            | (1725 - 1802)          
                       _Jeremiah STARK _____|
                      | (1749 - 1824) m 1773|
                      |                     |_Rachel Couts WILLIAMS _
                      |                       (1725 - ....)          
 _James STARK ________|
| (1785 - ....)       |
|                     |                      _Charles KING __________+
|                     |                     | (1730 - 1789) m 1752   
|                     |_Mary KING __________|
|                       (1759 - 1831) m 1773|
|                                           |_Charity PENNINGTON ____+
|                                             (1738 - 1776) m 1752   
|--Charles STARK 
|  (1802 - 1882)
|                                            ________________________
|                                           |                        
|                      _____________________|
|                     |                     |
|                     |                     |________________________
|                     |                                              
                      |                      ________________________
                      |                     |                        






An even more complete research of the family history of the Starks' is on the internet at this site:

You will have to scroll down this long list of the Starks family ancestors to get to the Miller County Starks forebearer, Charles Starks. When you find Charles' name you still have to scroll a long ways to find Elisha since he was the last of Charles' nineteen children. This genealogy seems to be very complete and includes a lot of other Miller County Starks.

Elisha V. Stark passed away in 1940 and was buried in Dooley Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Miller County. You can read about this cemetery in Peggy Hake's article about James Dooley, the first Dooley in the county at this page on our own website:

You will need to scroll about half way down the page to get to the section on James Dooley.

No Starks in Miller County these days are associated with the cave which once had their name; however, without wanting to be too facetious, I must mention that I went to see the movie “Iron Man” this last weekend where a new Stark, Tony Stark, has become the next member of the Stark family to have his name associated with a cave. In the movie, Tony is captured by Muslim fanatics in Afghanistan and held prisoner in a cave. But Tony, being the electrical engineer genius that he is, comes bursting out of the cave as “Iron Man” (photo 07a) and saves the world from the evil ones who chased him around the world.

07a Iron Man
07a Iron Man

In the narrative about Stark Caverns the story of Ed Shepherd and another young boy getting lost in the cave was recounted. Ed later became editor and owner of the Eldon Advertiser. The story of the Advertiser was published in the paper a number of years ago which I found from a newspaper clipping in our files which did not have the exact date although I estimate it was in the 1990's. I thought the mention of Ed in the Cave story made an easy segue to the story of the Advertiser which is copied below:

Eldon Advertiser

The first issue of The Eldon Advertiser, Volume 1, Number 1, was entered at the post office in Eldon on June 11, 1894 and has never missed a publication day since. It was printed on wallpaper at one time, due to shortage or failed arrival of newsprint, and it is said that the newspaper had to be cranked out by hand because of failure of the press's gasoline engine at one time. Other production crises occurred through the years but like the mail which always goes through, The Eldon Advertiser was delivered to its subscribers each week. Founded by N.J. Shepherd (photo 08 and photo 09) and J.R. Helfrich the newspaper began shortly after the Aurora Springs Messenger, first published in 1887, was moved to Tuscumbia. Eldon had a population of 379 at the time.

08 Nehemiah John Shepherd with wife Permelia Ralls
08 Nehemiah John Shepherd with wife Permelia Ralls

09 Nehemiah John Shepherd 2
09 Nehemiah John Shepherd 2

Soon after the newspaper's founding, Helfrich's interest was bought out by Shepherd's son, Rawleigh, and daughter Maude (photo 10 and photo 11). N.J. Shepherd wrote free lance magazine articles and wrote for the Chicago and Detroit newspapers and the St. Louis Republic which eventually became the St. Louis Globe Democrat, in addition to editing the Advertiser.

10 Children of Nehemiah John Shepherd
10 Children of Nehemiah John Shepherd

11 Children of Nehemiah John Shepherd 2
11 Children of Nehemiah John Shepherd 2

In 1902 Ed Shepherd (photo 12) bought the interests of his brother and sister and in 1904 became the sole owner of the newspaper.

12 Ed Shepherd and wife Laura Mitchell
12 Ed Shepherd and wife Laura Mitchell

The Advertiser was first printed on a hand cranked press, one side of each page done at a time. Two pages of the paper, containing "national" news and advertising were preprinted in St. Louis and two more printed in Eldon.

All type was handset one letter at a time. A four page press, which was still in use when the newspaper was sold in 1945, was installed in 1910. In 1915 Shepherd invested $2000.00 in an Intertype machine which cast a full line of type at a time. Another more modern Intertype was later added.

In 1926 the Advertiser moved from its first home on First Street, just west of Mill Street, to 16 South Maple where it remained until 1960.

On the fourth of July, 1960, the newspaper was moved into a new building at its present location at 409 South Maple Street, where a web fed Duplex press had been installed. It later expanded into adjacent buildings. The present address in the telephone book is registered as 415 South Maple.

In March of 1968, the first units of the modern web offset press that is still in use today were installed. Two more eight page printing units were later added to bring the press up to the present 32 tab page capacity. Typesetting progressed from hot metal through"cold type" strike on machines to photo typesetting machines, and finally to a computer network that is capable of producing full pages of camera ready copy on laser printers.

Ownership of the newspaper has remained in two families for most of its 100 year history. Ed Shepherd sold The Advertiser to Mr. and Mrs. M.C. Dionne in 1945. The Dionnes' installed a later model flat bed press and updated other printing equipment before selling to Mr. and Mrs. Carl Winter in 1946. Wallace Vernon became a partner in 1948 and he and his wife, Marjorie, became sole owners of the paper in 1953.

They subsequently formed Vernon Publishing, Inc. and acquired other area newspapers.

Today, in addition to The Advertiser, Vernon Pulishing, Inc. owns The Miller County Autogram Sentinel, The Tipton Times, The Versailles Leader Statesman, The Morgan County Press, and The Highway Five Beacon.

After graduating from the Missouri University School of Journalism, Dane Vernon joined the Advertiser staff in Eldon. He later moved to Versailles to become publisher of the Versailles, Stover, Tipton and Laurie publications. He became publisher of the Advertiser and Autogram Sentinel when he assumed presidency of Vernon Publishing, Inc. in 1992.

Virginia Duffield, present editor of the Advertiser, is the eleventh to hold that position in the newspapers 100 year history.

Following the Shepherds, Dionnes and Winters, Madolyn McFarland served as editor of the newspaper for most of the years from 1953 through 1982. Dean Rea and Richard Jackson were editors during periods from 1953 through 1955 when McFarland pursued other interests.

Gordon Davidson edited the newspaper from late 1963 through late 1967.

Kim Green succeeded McFarland in late 1982 and was succeeded by Duffield in 1987.

Moving from the Eldon area to Iberia is another interesting story recently investigated by Waldo (Sherrill) Steen, native of Iberia who now resides in Texas. Wally remembered an exciting event happening in the Iberia area when he was a boy in the 1940's when a glider crashed in a field near where he lived. The story made the local newspaper (photo 13) and ever since Wally has wanted to know more about the event, especially the details of how the glider was removed.

13 Iberia Sentinel - June 29, 1944
13 Iberia Sentinel - June 29, 1944 - Article Highlighted on Right
Click image for PDF version of the file

Recently, when he was back in Missouri for a family reunion he went to the archives and obtained sufficient information to write the following story with photos as well which we have uploaded to our website at this location:

Another airplane incident in Iberia occurred sometime in the late forties. We don't have the details, just the photos. I am putting these photos on our site with partial identification of the persons in the hopes that some reader may be able to supply more details and identifications. Perhaps someone kept a newspaper clipping of the event. Peggy Hake gave me the photos which were sent by Iva Hancock, who now lives in Springfield, Mo. In the first photo (photo 14) is a young man Iva thought might be Ray Howser. In the second photo (photo 15) on the right Iva thought was Don Walton and on the left she thought the person might be Glade Baird. Iva could not identify the person in the third photo (photo 16). If you know anymore about these photos please let us know.

14 Ray Howser
14 Ray Howser


15 Glade Baird and Don Walters
15 Glade Baird and Don Walters


16 Unknown
16 Unknown

Finally, I wanted to mention a memory of childhood when my grandfather, Madison Bear, would sing me a German lullaby he learned from his father, David C. Bear. The Bears were immigrants from Germany arriving in the U.S. in the late 1700's. The German language survived in the home up to my great grandfather David C's time but by the time of my grandfather English was spoken. However, my great grandfather would enjoy conversing in German with some of the other Tuscumbia citizens of German origin, especially those of the Kallenbach family who had come to America about a century later. My mother remembers her grandfather, David C. conversing in German often with Ed or John Kallenbach on the steps of the old Thompson garage in town. Royal Kallenbach told me the other day that John didn't speak English well enough to be very confident about it, especially in legal situations, so he asked my grandfather to translate for him once in a court case in Tuscumbia in which John was pursuing the return of a calf in which the terms of sale were disputed.

The lullaby mentioned above I have found in its entirety and I have placed it here with a translation following:

Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
Der Vater hüt't die Schaf.
Die Mutter schüttelt's Bäumelein,
Da fällt herab ein Träumelein.
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf!

Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
Am Himmel ziehn die Schaf.
Die Sternlein sind die Lämmerlein,
Der Mond, der ist das Schäferlein.
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf!

Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
So schenk' ich dir ein Schaf.
Mit einer goldnen Schelle fein,
Das soll dein Spielgeselle sein.
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.

Sleep, baby, sleep.
Your father tends the sheep.
Your mother shakes the branches small,
Lovely dreams in showers fall.
Sleep, baby, sleep.

Sleep, baby, sleep.
Across the heavens move the sheep.
The little stars are lambs, I guess,
And the moon is the shepherdess.
Sleep, baby, sleep.

Sleep, baby, sleep.
I'll give to you a sheep.
And it shall have a bell of gold
For you to play with and to hold.
Sleep, baby, sleep.

My mother remembered another German song which had been pretty much anglicized, but not completely. I don't have the song in its pure German form; this is all my mother remembers:

Mein Mudder be Doich & mein Fodder be Doich
And I bee Doicher too
We eet sower krout & we drink Schlager Beer
But dot bee Schmuting midch you.

It's sung to the tune of:
Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone
Oh where, oh where can he be?
With his tail cut short & his ears left long
Oh where, oh where, can he be?

My grandfather wasn't a beer drinker, at least when I knew him, but he sure made a lot of sauerkraut every year.

We are making early plans for the Ice Cream Social on Saturday, June 21. I hope that all can come to this popular event in which board member Carl McDonald ahead of time makes buckets of home made ice cream for our guests. We are very pleased to have entertaining us for the day the Joe Jeffries group which always performs the kind of music most popular here, old time hill country music.

That's all for this week.

Joe Pryor

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