1881 – Crystal Cave discovered
Crystal Cave was discovered in 1881 by local farm boys, William and George Vanasse. The discovery occurred while William and George were in the woods just a short distance from their home. They were chasing a woodchuck when it suddenly disappeared down a hole. The brothers probed and pushed with a stick which suddenly slipped from their grasp, disappearing into the ground. The initial exploration of the cave took place the next day when William and George descended hole. They entered a clay and debris filled dome from which they then dropped down into what is now the main room of the second level. In other directions, the boys saw only shallow entrances to clay-filled galleries on the upper level. The existence of other levels and galleries was not suspected. Crystal Cave, at that time was called Sander’s Corner Cave, remained in a semi-filled condition for several decades.
1941 – Henry Friede purchased the property to open the cave for tours.
Crystal Cave was developed, or commercialized by Henry A. Friede, an advertising agency manager and amateur geologist from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Mr. Friede had been interested in caves for some time and had studied many possible sites in the Spring Valley/Elmwood/Plum City area, hoping for a discovery equal to that of Blue Mounds (now Cave of the Mounds) or the caves near Harmony, Minnesota (Mystery Cave and Niagara Cave).
November 2, 1941 – Work began to ready the first and second levels of the cave for tours.
Work began during the week of November 2, 1941 on the first and second levels. By November 20, 1941, six men worked daily using a drag line to remove the glacial silt and debris filling the cave. By early April, 1942, much of the debris had been removed. The cave itself had a reported 1101 linear feet of passageway open to the public at a depth of 81 feet.
April 1942 – Construction began on the entrance building (now gift shop).
Alvin Peterson began developing plans for the entrance building starting in November 1941. In the spring of 1942 construction began on an entrance building. Arthur Maher, from Durand, Wisconsin, was hired as stone mason. At that time, plans called for a building measuring 52’ x 30’, built from “loose fragments of dolomite removed from the cave, and will be of one story with a full basement. An easy series of stairways will lead from the basement to the first and to the second and third levels below.
May 29th-30th 1942 – Opening Day delayed due to flooding in the area (8” of rain in 30 hours).
The original plan was to have a Memorial Day Weekend Grand Opening. On Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30, 1942 the area received 8” of rain in 30 hours causing massive flooding of Spring Valley. The water depths were six feet and more. Mr. Friede was forced to delay opening weekend until June 7, 1942.
June 7th, 1942 – Official Opening Date, about 20,000 visitors in the first year.
1947 – Fine Dining Restaurant opened
1957 – Moe Family purchased the cave.
Prior to owning Crystal Cave, Mr. and Mrs. Moe lived in the Twin Cities. Mr. Moe worked for Montgomery Ward and owned a series of apartment complexes in the Twin Cities. Looking for a second career, the Moe family moved to Spring Valley and into the living quarters attached to the gift shop. During 29 years at Crystal Cave the Moe Family managed a successful business at the Cave. One time Mr. Moe hired a local student named Jean to give cave tours. She worked for several years at the cave and this was the start of her on a lifetime passion for geology and Crystal Cave.
1986 – Cunningham’s purchased the cave.
Prior to becoming owners, Jean and Blaze Cunningham worked as mineral and oil and gas exploration geologists for Exxon, Gulf Oil Corporation and Chevron Corporation. Jean, is a native of western Wisconsin. Both have had a life-long association with caves. Blaze began exploring caves in high school while Jean’s first job was as a tour guide at Crystal Cave, working for the Moes.
1992 – Major discovery tripled the length of Crystal Cave
Beginning in 1992, major exploration push began in Crystal cave. The team was lead by David Gerboth of the Minnesota Speleological Survey (MSS). They were able to connect Crystal Cave to another, nearby cave that was known as Bat Cave. The discovery of additional cave passages and the joining of two caves almost tripled the length of Crystal Cave. A new survey of the cave was completed, spearheaded by John Lavass and Dawn Ryan, members of the Wisconsin Speleological Society (WSS).
2012 – Eric McMaster purchased the cave.
Eric McMaster, friend of Blaze and Jean Cunningham, purchased Crystal Cave in 2012.
Eric was an active caver in Tennessee before moving to the Midwest. He is a Life Member of the National Speleological Society (NSS) and active in local and national caving organizations. Eric was awarded the prestigious “Fellow of the National Speleological Society” for his lifetime of volunteer and conservation work. Above ground attractions were added, including Prospector’s Creek, and Tee Rex Minigolf.
2016 – Prairie Restored
In partnership with the USFWS and the WIDNR, Crystal Cave restored a 7 acre farm field back to native prairie. A hiking trail and a Human Sun Dial were also added to this new prairie.