Explore Demonbreun Cave, Nashville’s first residence

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WKRN) – From a distance it appears as a large crack in the rock on the Cumberland River. Up close it is a National Historic Landmark.

Demonbreun Cave was home to Tennessee’s first white citizen, Jacques-Timothe De Montbrun, also known as Timothy Demonbreun.

News 2 spoke with Gordon Belt, Director of Public Services at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, on the importance of the cave.

He said they have a collection from William Provine which shows maps of the cave. Provine was a member of the Tennessee Historical Society and a Presbyterian minister, who was very interested in the pre-accession period.

“He gathered a lot of material related to the early explorers of this region. What we have here on display here are a few items he gathered while researching Timothy Demonbreun, who was a noted fur trader, a French Canadian, who came to what is now Nashville – which was then known as French Lick. He went to trade with the native people for furs, ”Belt said.

Belt said the cave is only accessible through a portal about 400 feet from the Cumberland River and another above ground entrance.

“There were apparently 3 rooms in the cave, and the cave itself is around 150 feet long,” Belt said.

Courtesy of: Susan McKenna

Belt said Provine started working with the Tennessee Historical Society to collect stories and interview people who knew Demonbreun.

“He would have collected newspaper clippings and that sort of thing, taken notes. And all of this has been brought together in a service to historical society. Demonbreun is known as the first citizen of Nashville. He was the first person of European descent to come to this area and trade with the Native Americans who used this area as a hunting ground, a shared hunting ground, ”Belt said.

Belt said that this cave is an important piece of history.

“This is actually one of only two caves on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is for the reasons we have talked about that this was really a point where Demonbreun sought refuge and conflict,” Belt said. .

Belt said many people associate the name Demonbreun with Nashville Street.

“If people take a look further down the story, they will see that this is a very important reason why we named the street after that name. He was not only the first person of European descent to come to Nashville when it was French Lick, but also, family members linked to Demonbreun were very important in Nashville as well, ”Belt explained.

Others, like Hendersonville’s Billy Stallings, had the chance to explore the cave firsthand.

“I saw a giant hole in the cave across the river and thought… I wonder what this cave is?” It turns out it was a tourist attraction in the early 1900s, 1930s, somewhere around this time. They built a staircase to where they would charge people to enter the cave, ”Stallings said.

The cave is no longer a tourist attraction. It is also difficult to access.

Stallings told News 2 that having the opportunity to walk through the cave brings the past to life.

“I love history! So to go back and see a place like this and imagine what it looked like when it was there, that’s kind of what I do, ”Stallings said.

Stallings said it’s important to record these landmarks on camera while we can.

“There are all kinds of things that I filmed that are missing. Things have been demolished, things have been moved. When I find a story, I do my best to capture that story as quickly as possible in case that happens, ”Stallings explained.

The historical marker 3A-32 near the pedestrian bridge in Nashville for Demonbreun Cave reads:

Jacques-Timothe De Montbrun, French Canadian fur trader and later lieutenant governor of the country of Illinois, visited the region as early as 1769. On at least one occasion, he took refuge in the cave 0.9 miles to the east. when it was attacked by Indians. He settled in Nashville in 1790, remained there until his death in 1826.


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