The Manuscripts & Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections has recently added this fascinating letter to our collection. On May 19, 1833, Philadelphia merchant Joseph Trimble Baldwin, traveling through Kentucky on his way to Nashville, penned a letter to his young wife Louisa. Beginning a long, uncomfortable stagecoach ride from Lexington, he had passed through Glasgow and arrived “in this distant region which is one of the most comfortless and sterile in Ky.” A few miles from Bowling Green, however, he saw “one of the most interesting natural & artificial curiosities” he had ever experienced. “[I]n one of the deep dells, with which this country abo[u]nds,” he wrote Louisa, “a very large spring rises from a depth which the proprietor informs me has not yet been fathomed” to “turn the water wheel of a grist mill situated at the mouth of the cave.” From there, the flow of water disappeared into “a yawning cavern in the rocks, where it courses its devious way for more than a mile under the mountain, till it is finally lost amid its dark and inscrutable recesses.” Looking into the cave from the main road to Nashville, which passed over the top of the mill, Baldwin found the view at first frightening, then fascinating as he learned more about the “fearful legends of the place.” Waxing romantic, he noted that the “lugubrious sounds” of the turbulent water brought to mind the “moan & lament . . . of the uneasy–and sinful spirits whom we have been taught to believe are chained beneath earth’s centre–to atone for deeds of ill and thoughts of evil.”
A finding aid for Baldwin’s letter, together with a typescript, can be downloaded here.