The Secret of the Court House Cave
By Bobbi Spiker-Conley
Editor’s Note: The following is part of a SERIES of articles (that began in November 2020) about Jake Spiker and Gay Zinn’s courtship letters. Links to view previous editions are found below this article.
Other people were starting to take notice of Jake and Gay’s courtship. Gay’s mother saw them when she went out to “carry wood.” One of the Zinn’s boarders, Mr. Morris, told a tale of “the old man, trotting his girl.” And I don’t know who “Jellie D” is, but Jake wrote, “I will be there next Saturday if nothing turns up to prevent me from coming, and that will be pretty hard to do, for I want to see you offle [sic] bad. You don’t know how well. Would like to put my arm around your waist like I did when Jellie D. caught us, ha ha.”
Some of the first people to witness the budding romance were named in the “courting letters.” But exactly what they witnessed is elusive.
Jake reminded Gay of at least two encounters that held a special meaning for him.
Hasn’t this been a fine day? It was about just such a day as this when you, Pur Zinn and Agnes and I took that walk out the railroad. And you know what happened. But I don’t think that will happen again, or at least I hope so anyway, don’t you? I don’t think that I will ever forget that time.
And I was just thinking of you and Lena, and what a time we had that time we went to the Court House Cavethat Sunday and Lena fell over the fence. And how you and Lena made fun of my shoes. And what a race we had? And how much fun we had trying one another’s shoes? It makes me laugh to think how funny you girls looked with my shoes on.
I often think of the good old times that we have had at Harrisville and wonder if we will ever be together as much as we were there.
The memories must have been just as special to Gay.
Oh, yes, I remember the time Pier, Agnes, you and I took that walk, and I certainly I recollect that Sunday Lena, you and I went to the Court House Cave, and I shall not forget any of it soon.
Court House Cave – seemingly a popular hangout for the young people of Harrisville – was mentioned several times in the letters, but I could not find it on any map. I turned to my fellow genealogists and history buffs at the Ritchie County, West Virginia History and Genealogy group on Facebook for help. Surprisingly, several people in the group who had lived in Harrisville for many years – some even their entire lives – said they had no idea where the so-called cave was located.
Group member, Nancy Mosley, responded with a couple pics. ”In looking at the book ‘Ritchie County in Vintage Postcards’ by Rock S. Wilson, I discovered that there are 2 pictures of Court House Cave on page 42, from around 1925. The book is a gold mine of pictures…I keep forgetting that I have it, then find wonderful things when I look at it again.”
Alan Haught took his camera to the cave on March 29, 2021 and shared several photos to the group. He explained that “it is not really a cave but more of a huge [rock] overhang on the side of the creek. Rumor has it that there was actually court held there before there was a courthouse.”
Fellow group member, Mary Ann Marcum Caterbury, added, “According to my late mother, Joann Welch, court was indeed held here.”
Becky Stemple asked (Ritchie County Historical Society’s) David Scott’s wife, Susan, “what knowledge or lore he knew about the cave. He said he’s heard two stories. One was that early settlers held court proceedings there. And the other is that during the Civil War, they knew that Confederate troops were advancing toward Harrisville so they took the court house records down to the cave and hid them there, so they wouldn’t be destroyed. He doesn’t know if either story is true, but, it turns out that the latter was a good idea because when they came to Harrisville the Confederates wrecked the post office and destroyed the U.S. stamps and confiscated the money there, as an act of war.”
Member Hilda McBride agreed, “this [i]s the story I was always told about court house cave. They hid records there during the war.”
Susan J Scott passed along this map from her husband, depicting where Court House Cave is located. (Note, map has been slightly modified from the original submission.)
Prior to my inquiry, the only reference to the cave that I found was in a post by Group Administrator John Jackson on December 3, 2016. He had transcribed the following article from the Ritchie Gazette, dated September 5, 1913:
Picnic at Court House Cave
Misses Eva and Margie Hall entertained their guests, Miss Rachel Nuttall, of Pittsburg, and Miss Lesta Jackson, of Weston, with a picnic at the Court house cave, on Monday evening. About twenty-five young women and men enjoyed this outing. After the picnic supper was served the guests sat about a camp fire and enjoyed general conversation and a reading by Miss Robinson. The shades of night fell before the party realized it, and some difficulty was experienced by the ladies in finding their way along the rocky path to town. However all were safely piloted home by the gallant youths of the crowd, and the picnic was declared a complete success.
So, yes, Court House Cave was a popular hang-out and social spot for picnics, class reunions, and similar events. For Jake and Gay - and most likely hundreds of couples over the centuries - it was Harrisville’s version of “Blueberry Hill” or “Lover’s Key.” (Of course, now I’m wondering if my parents or my aunts and uncles, also stole away to meet at the “cave” when they were courting their future spouses. And did Grandpa and Grandma know? Or approve? Hmmmm?)
Referenced in these Letters:
1 Pier Zinn – first name was written as both “Pur” and “Pier.” Most likely this is Perry Pierpoint Zinn (1886-1944) the son of Thomas Gray and Kate Anna Eliza Pierpoint Zinn.
2 Agnes – Most likely this is Mary Agnes Burwell (1883-1938) sister of Albert “Bert” Walker Burwell (1886-1962) and Leona May Burwell (1887-unk) all mentioned in the letters. They are the children of John Russell and Rosanna Belle Church Burwell.
3 Lena Ward – one of Gay’s best friends (see photo in previous edition.) Lena Maude Ward (1886-1984) is the daughter of Charles Alvin and Catharine Olive Hall Ward. She married Jake’s good friend and roommate, Azzle “Mood” Ehret (1883-1951) also mentioned in these letters (more about him later.)
Or go back to the very beginning of the series — turn to the November 2020 edition of the Spiker Family Gazette.
Submitted by Hacker’s Creek Pioneer Descendants HCPD Facebook Group – If you are visiting for the Strawberry Festival, we invite you to drive 10 miles to Horner and visit the Central WV genealogy and history library. We are having a used book sale, antique sale and hot dog and strawberry shortcake take out, from 9am to 2pm.
We will also help you dive into your family roots. Call us at 304-269-7091 for more information. We have plenty parking and a beautiful lawn to have a picnic!
Dates for sale are Friday 14th and Saturday 15th (May 2021.)
Submitted by Mike Spiker – The Spiker Reunion will be held this Memorial Day weekend, May 29 and 30th. Be sure to let us know by the first part of May if you plan to attend, so that we can get the right supplies for both days of this event.