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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chinn's Cave

 A recent Trip  to Harrodsburg KY brought an unexpected bonus.Had I not mentioned to my Dad[always an endless file on local History, the archaic, the obscure and the forgotten ]That I was heading there to see fort Harrod,I would have missed one of the most fascinating things I’ve come across recently. He told me near Harrodsburg are the ruins of an old restaurant/gas station/gambling establishment built inside a cave along the cliffs of the Kentucky river.

Chinn's Cave House back in the day

 It was mostly just a big blasted out hole in steep Cliffside along U.S. 68. One Col. George M. Chinn  a wild and colorful KY character, a military man who loved guns and always seem to have access to explosives decided to build a gas station and restaurant Along the river palisades . It was called Chinn’s Cave House.

                                                            Click above to start Video

  With the Name Chinn people often incorrectly assumed he was Asian but The Chinns are an old   pioneer family from Mercer county KY. The name was French Huguenot and was originally
 de Chiene but over time it was shortened to Chinn. George graduated from MMI [Millersburg Military Institute] in 1920 and was in the (ROTC) program.  Among his accomplishments, At Centre he was a lineman on the team that won the national Football championship in 1921 beating Harvard 6-0. He became a Colonel in the U.S.M.C. and was co-inventor of the Mark 19 40mm automatic grenade launcher. The Mark 19 was introduced in Vietnam And it is still in use with U.S Forces as of this writing.

Many who pass by here probably don't notice this ruin

 After his Military career Chinn returned to his native Mercer County near the Brooklyn Bridge between Jessamine and Mercer counties. At one time There were four gas pumps out front if you needed fuel and you could enjoy Hot ham sandwiches and foot-long chili dogs, and shoot at the indoor shooting range. Ahh but The cave held a secret, the gas pumps and roadside dining were a ''front'' literally. In the back of the cave, through a secret entrance there were slot machines ,making the place a sort of  riverside, again ''literally'' underground gambling operation.

Eventually the law caught up with Chinn and the place was shut down for good

Blocked off with a fence I could still see there are lavatories and living quarters

With lots of debris laying around it makes me
wonder if the slot machines are still in there

You can see a glass Structure added later but now completely collapsed


  1. Curiosity...why is it in ruins now? What happened to it over the years?

  2. How quickly things get lost in time. EJD

  3. It sits right on the road side, thousands pass it.

  4. We used to stop there and get a coke. They had a gift shop in there. Like the gift shops with Davy crocket hats, etc. My Mother remembered the gas pumps being out front

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  6. I grew up in Wilmore and my Grandpa had a farm right on 68 a little before the Shaker landing road. He always talked about Mr. Chinn and what a shame it was that this place went under. If you'll go to google earth maps and type in these coordinate: 37.846753, -84.697187 will see an aerial view of what my Grandpa called Chinn's curve. There was an old stone house sitting on top of that hill that belonged to Chinn. You can see it if you go to the street view and it still looks abandoned with the words "stay out" spray painted on the front door. That's a real shame because wow, what a view that place has. I always hated that curve because it felt like you would drive off the cliff - especially when the coal trucks from the power plant would come barreling down the road in the wrong lane. Anyway, Grandpa said that after the police shut it down there was also a flood that did a lot of damage to the interior and the gas tanks. It never got back up after that. My Grandma also told me about how scary it used to be to cross the bridge there when the road went through the tunnel (which is still there on the Jessamine side) and that she would make everyone sit perfectly still and pray to God that they wouldn't fall through the wood planks. Thanks for the memories. :)

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  8. There was a passage through the back of the cave that curved around and led back to the road, just slightly uphill from the main entrance. When I was a child in the mid-fifties, one of the nice folks working in the souvenir shop escorted my parents and me through the tunnel-like passage. I don't recall seeing any slot machines and can't recall how the passage was lighted - flashlights?? Electric lights? (the main cave had electric lights).

    This was my first cave experience - it may be that part of the "cave" was natural and part of it blasted out to enlarge the natural cavern. I don't recall seeing any stalagmites or stalactites, but do recall it being dampish. Perhaps that passage was used as a escape in case of a gambling raid, but the eventual opening was not disguised or hidden at all.

    And - yet another cliff base opening was nearby! We were told it was an unexplored passage, which I now find a little disingenuous. Maybe it was the get-away!