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Sutton's Cave in Maplewood

Unknown to nearly all Maplewoodians is an extensive cave right beneath their feet.

 

Because the following story concerns private property and possible health risks to would-be explorers I’ve taken care to conceal the location of the cave and the identities of those involved. 

A number of years ago a man presented himself at a Maplewood citizen’s (who I’ll call BH) front door and said he was a spelunker.  He told BH that he knew there was a cave in the vicinity and would BH mind if he had a look in his backyard.  BH didn’t mind and showed the caver where two manhole covers were located very close to one another.  The first is a cover for a storm sewer.  The second turned out to have a different purpose.  It is an access to what I’m suggesting we call Sutton’s Cave.

 The spelunker wasted no time in removing the cover and scurrying down the manhole.  BH said the man was well equipped and an experienced member of a local spelunking society.  In spite of that after the spelunker had been gone several hours, he began to worry.  It was nearing sunset when the mud-covered man finally reemerged and told BH that there was a very large cave that went on and on.

 While doing research for the Maplewood history book I realized that this location (BH’s backyard) is very close to the site where James Sutton (Maplewood's first settler) constructed a home in 1826.  To reveal the source of this information would be to reveal the location.

 According to this source “The first house…was put up at a point…near a spring that is yet situated … down at the rear of Mrs. Poertner’s lot.”  My investigation determined the likely location of the spring.  The present day entrance to the cave is extremely close to the former location of the spring.  Indeed it appears that the spring may have at some time in the past been routed to empty into the cave itself.

 In 2010, acting out of curiosity, I contacted a local group of responsible spelunkers.  They came out and verified that the manhole in question was an access point to the cave.  They informed me that it would be very unhealthy to try and explore this cave without the proper equipment.  These days urban caves often have sewage in them.  The air can be deadly. 

 The cavers, extremely nice and knowledgeable fellows all, recorded the location and at my suggestion listed it as Sutton’s Cave.  They knew of another very large cave fairly close by that had also been capped with a manhole cover.  The manhole cover which now caps the Sutton cave is not typical.  It is much thicker and heavier than normal.  It was obviously meant to allow access but not easy access to the cave in the future.

 Sutton most likely made use of the spring.  He and others must have made use of the cave as well.  I wonder if they left anything down there.

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jeanne e braddock June 25, 2012 at 11:30 PM
love the story! please continue..
Brian Peters June 26, 2012 at 01:09 AM
I brought this story up to my father, and SURPRISE TO ME. As a child, my father and his friends used to play in these caves. This was likely in the late 1940's early 1950's. He told me some very interesting things about the cave. The article is correct, it is VERY large. My father said that they would enter at a certain place near Sutton and Manchester and that they would walk west towards Brentwood. (there was also mention about a former bank in Maplewood who's vault backed up to the cave, so at a certain point you could see a smooth concrete wall...I don't think its a bank anymore, but this is what my father told me) They would tie off a small rope, in case they had to go this way or that. The cave as he knew it stretched all the way along Manchester Road into Brentwood (just west of the new Schnucks there) where they would exit. He recalls that the cave seemed to extend further west toward Rock Hill, but that they never went that way. They stuck to what they knew. He said that some places could narrow down to crawlspaces, and in other areas, there could be waterholes that you would have to wade or swim through. He said if it had rained recently, it wasn't a good idea to explore. He also noted several exit points along the way. Something about a house that used to be on a hill at Brentwood and Manchester. The entrance was infront of the house, surrounded by bushes, and you would have to crawl on your hands and knees through the bushes to find the hole.
Brian Peters June 26, 2012 at 01:11 AM
He also told me that the sight were Ace Hardware is in Brentwood used to be a Schnucks, and long before that, it was a dumping ground. He told me the name of the company, but I forget.
Ryan Martin (Editor) June 26, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Wow, that's really cool. I wonder what the caves look like today. That'd be a heckuva cool sight to see.
Doug Houser June 26, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Thanks for the words of encouragement. I hope there will be more to report later. The cavers mentioned spoke of possibly mounting an expedition at some later date. Keep your fingers crossed. It seems to me like it would be a big deal because not only would they need to carry their own air, they'd also need protective suits due to the diseases they could be exposed to in sewage. To my way of thinking, James Sutton may have used the cave for any number of things, shelter, storage, cool storage, water, etc. The cavers pointed out to me that the access to the cave lay in the bowl of a natural depression, like a sinkhole, which I hadn't noticed. They explained that the cave was the drain and without it we would be standing in the middle of a pond. It's impossible to know for sure but I imagine that in Sutton's day, the cave entrance could have been like a fissure in the rock or a crevasse. As the neighborhood developed it was most likely intentionally filled in and capped for the safety of the children. The spring as I mentioned above is located in the historic record. More recently the current property owner told me of the difficulty of building on the site because it had been a pond as recently as the 1960's, I believe.
Doug Houser June 26, 2012 at 05:31 AM
Brian, your comment is very interesting. Several points are nearly identical to ones in a story told to me by a retired Maplewood firefighter, Dewey Eberhardt, who was living in Shrewsbury when we last spoke. According to Dewey a tunnel exists that runs from Citizen's Bank in Maplewood to the NW corner of Brentwood and Manchester. There it surfaces and has a concrete cap. I'm fairly certain he was talking about a man made tunnel and not a natural cave. I forget what purpose this tunnel served.
Doug Houser June 26, 2012 at 05:31 AM
Roughly midway between those two points was once the location of a roadhouse known as the Eight Mile House (8 miles from downtown St. Louis). It was later called Bartold's Grove and was a popular hotel and resort. The hotel was located at the SE corner of present day Manchester and Hanley. The building was built in the 1840's and survived into the 1950's or possibly the early 60's. The hotel was built into the hill below the present location of the Sunnen Corporation's headquarters. It was 3 storys in front and walk out at ground level from the 3rd story in the rear. I hadn't thought about why it had been built in such a manner until the subject came up in conversation with one of the cavers mentioned above. These passionate fellows search the historic record for mention of caves. He had noticed that the Bartold Inn had later been renamed as Cool Cave Tavern. There you have it. One of the features that made Bartold's Grove such an attractive destination was its beer garden. The building must have backed up to a cave and may have taken advantage of the natural air conditioning as well as having a giant beer cooler close at hand.
Brian Peters June 26, 2012 at 07:03 AM
I LOVE learning this stuff. Who knew all of this was so close to home? And that information about the Cool Cave Tavern has me really intrigued.
Dan June 28, 2012 at 04:24 PM
There were three ways to enter the cave in Brentwood, which was called Berry's Cave, because the main entrance was in front of the Berry Home on Manchester, where Elaine Rosi's Academy is now. The other entrances were near the present site of the Brentwood Rec Center and across the street where the Kimberly Building is now. Back in the day there was small quarry on that site run by the Moss family.
Doug Houser June 28, 2012 at 06:26 PM
That's very interesting, Dan. The name Berry came from a property owner I'd suppose. Was it an attraction open to the public? If you don't mind my asking what is the source of your information? DH
Striek June 28, 2012 at 06:55 PM
All very interesting. Apparantly, the area has/had a lot of caves, sinkholes, and springs. In Brentwood, on Cecilia Ave - up the hill from Manchester Rd is a pond that is spring fed, I believe. Tilles Park has the sinkhole terrain.
Brian Peters June 28, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Isn't the Rec center in Brentwood built over a sink hole? I think I remember hearing that somewhere. I'm sure the Berry House entrance is the one my dad told me about. I'll try to get him on this thread.
Dan June 29, 2012 at 03:05 PM
The entrance to the cave in front of the Berry house was not an attraction, but simply known to those in the area. A picture of the Berry home, and a note about the cave, is in the Brentwood, Missouri book published by the Brentwood Historical Society in 2002. Dr. Berry was a well known physician in the early history of Brentwood.
Jason Meyers June 29, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Thanks for the article. Maplewood has a new high adventure Scouting unit (Venturing Crew 2362). We're going to be very interested in looking into this.
Tom Diven June 29, 2012 at 08:00 PM
There is also a cave in Brentwood that was originally at the corner of Pine and Brentwood (NW corner). It was filled in with concrete debris and existed until the Milton Building was constructed in the early 60's? It was rumored to run north to the NW corner of Eager and Brentwood which was the location of the Brentwood Bank for years. Both ends of this cave are now built over. ALSO there was a large sink hole located at the location of the Brentwood Recreation Complex. this was also rumored to connect to the opening at Pine Avenue.
Jeff Speaks Jr June 29, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I used to live at 8829 Powell. my grandma ( who grew up in that house) told my mom about this huge sinkhole, just down the street. When my grandma was little, the sinkhole was so big that you couldn't see the bottom of it. She recalls the city workers of Brentwood dumping into this giant sinkhole. From what I've heard, this was practically the city dump. She learned that the city was dumping in this sinkhole to fill it up. After they filled the sinkhole, they built two new big houses there. Those houses still stand there today, but I remember my mom saying that the sinkhole could open back up and take the houses with it.
Jeff Speaks Jr June 30, 2012 at 03:25 PM
I was talking about this cave to my friend last night, he lives over by ace hardware, the property he is on was his wife's grandparent's property in the 40's and 50's. My friend's wife's grandparents told stories of the cave opening where the apartments are behind ace hardware. They said that Mexcians lived in the cave and had huge cookouts in the cave. Also, they worked at the quarry near by.
Julie M. Miller July 01, 2012 at 12:54 AM
All this information is readily available at the Brentwood Historical Society. The folks over there would love to help anybody looking for this information. I believe the information about the caves in this area is well documented and really fascinating reading.
Julie M. Miller July 01, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Jason, do your research at the Brentwood Historical Society. They're open on Fridays, before noon I think...
Barbara McGhee July 02, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Oh man... Now I'll never get any work done. I just opened. New small small business guess where... The NW corner of Brentwood and Manchester in a 100 year old house! So if anyone comes by the shop and can't find me, check the woods in front of the store. Barbara McGhee
Gary Peters July 21, 2012 at 06:06 AM
I think you might have heard it from Dad because I had heard it too that the rink was sinking into it at a slow pace
Gary Peters July 21, 2012 at 06:25 AM
You're correct Jeff. I remember that sinkhole. There was one house on the southwest corner of Powell and Annalee. Then immediately west of that was a large sinkhole that there were no buildings on. The sinkhole took up the space of about two properties.

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