HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Long before Huntsville earned the nickname, "The Rocket City," it was better known as "Cave City."
More than 200 caverns have been documented within city limits, but one of Huntsville's most well-known sites didn't even get its start as a true cave.
"This is where they started the cave operation and they actually began by doing what they call the drill and shoot," said Land Trust of North Alabama Executive Director Marie Bostick, "which is where you just shoot the dynamite and they blast the whole thing out and they take it up and crush it."
In 1949, the mining style switched to "room and pillar," resulting in the cave's look today with looming columns and wide open spaces.
"It's about 6 acres total," said Bostick. "There are 25 of these pillars and the ceiling ranges from 30 to 50 feet high."
The quarry officially closed to limestone mining in 1952 and, since that time, the man-made cave has been naturalizing.
"There are cave formations," said Bostick. "[With] the water leeching through into the limestone, you get the creation of flowstone. And all the little rocks are called cave pearls. These are natural cave features that are now forming."
Madison County donated the property to the Land Trust in the late 1980s and Three Caves soon opened to the public for summer tours.
But after multiple rounds of droughts, it all came crashing down.
"We had a big rock fall and decided we needed to have somebody come look and see what was going on," said Bostick.
Engineers said in order for the Land Trust to keep tourists safe, it would need to install a mesh liner along the ceiling throughout the entire cave, as well as a monitoring system to note shifts or rock falls. The cost for the upgrades in 2008 totaled more than $250,000.
"Once we found out the magnitude of the issue and the cost involved in trying to make it safe, we just decided our best approach was to keep people out of the caves, use the bowl area for events as a backdrop," said Bostick.
From concerts to music videos to movies, Three Caves quickly became a treasured site in "Cave City." But now, nature alone will continue to take its course.
"It's a cool place," said Bostick, "we understand that. It's just not a safe place, unfortunately."
WHNT News 19 cannot stress enough that Three Caves is closed to the public. All trespassers will be prosecuted.