Tour Guide in the 1970s

The Story of a Wisconsin Landmark

From diggings to discovery and beyond, select the topics below to explore the cultural history of Cave of the Mounds.

What’s in a name?

Cave of the Mounds takes its name from the Blue Mounds, two large hills which have long been Wisconsin landmark features. The West Mound, at 1716 feet, is the highest point in Southern Wisconsin; the East Mound reaches 1489 feet. Cave of the Mounds lies under the southern slope of the East Mound.

East Mound and West Mound of Blue Mounds
Blue Mounds State Park pathway near Wisconsin points of interest and one of the Unique Places to visit in Wisconsin

The West Mound –

Blue Mound State Park

The West Mound is now a popular Wisconsin state park. Perched atop the highest point in southern Wisconsin, Blue Mound State Park offers spectacular views and unique geological features. A swimming pool is available during summer. Over 20 miles of scenic hiking, off-road biking and cross-country ski trails, as well as a family campground, access to the Military Ridge State Trail with bike-in campsites and a rustic cabin for people with disabilities make Blue Mound a popular destination year-round.

The East Mound –

Brigham County Park

Cave of the Mounds shares the East Mound with Brigham County Park. The park provides a panoramic view of the Wisconsin River Valley. Park features include a group camp area, a 23 unit rustic campground, two shelter facilities, picnic area, play equipment, nature trail through a maple woods, and hiking trails that connect to Blue Mound State Park. The Brigham Trail, a 1.3 mile paved shared-use trail, also goes through the park and connects to the Military Ridge State Trail and Cave of the Mounds.

Brigham County Park Sign
Portrait of Ebenezer Brigham, an important figure in the history of Wisconsin and lived in Blue Mounds

Mound Bound in the 1820s – Ebenezer Brigham

This area was settled by Ebenezer Brigham, a successful lead miner who became Dane County’s first permanent white settler in 1828. Ebenezer Brigham traveled from Massachusetts down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi to join the Wisconsin lead rush in the late 1820’s. He established his “diggings” and built a smelting furnace and a house just north of where the cave would be discovered over 100 years later. His house became a trading post, an inn, a stagecoach stop, and Dane County’s first post office. Colonel Brigham helped build and later commanded Fort Blue Mounds during the Blackhawk War in 1832. Ebenezer lived a long life on his Brigham Farm never realizing that a greater discovery than lead lay deep beneath its surface.

August 4, 1939 – The Cave is Discovered

Cave of the Mounds was accidentally discovered on August 4, 1939. Workers, who were removing high quality limestone from a quarry on the Brigham Farm, blasted into the Cave. The blast tore the face off the quarry and revealed a great underground cavern. All quarrying stopped and never resumed. The dynamite blast revealed a limestone cave more than twenty feet high opening into other rooms and galleries, all containing numerous mineral formations. The excitement of the discovery brought so many curiosity seekers that the Cave had to be closed in order to preserve it.

Workers at the Brigham Quarry in 1939 A moment in the history of Wisconsin
Visitors in the 1940s lining up in front of our building A moment in the history of Wisconsin

The 1940s – The First Cave Visitors

Soon, lights and wooden walkways were installed. In May 1940, Cave of the Mounds was opened to visitors. Over 59,000 people came to visit the Cave in the first 8 weeks of operation. Millions of visitors later, the Cave’s wooden walkways were replaced with concrete; a large stone building replaced the original entry building; and theatrical lighting has been installed to dramatize the colors and shapes within the Cave.

Celebrating 80 Years – Cave of the Mounds Today

Picnic areas, walking trails, rock gardens, gift shops, and a visitor center have all since been developed. In 1988, Cave of the Mounds was designated as a National Natural Landmark. In addition to cave tours, Cave of the Mounds now annually educates thousands of school children on field trips, welcomes scouts and other youth groups for educational programs and overnights, hosts public and private events throughout the year, and is home to Camp Brigham youth summer camps. Cave of the Mounds is celebrating 80 years since the cave was discovered in 1939.

Photo of Onyx Ridge section of the cave with People