There once was a mountain near Fort Spring that provided a product, jobs, housing, a potential shelter and “cave candy.”
That mountain was a source of Mississippian limestone mined by Acme Limestone Company beginning in March of 1916 at Snowflake Quarry along the Greenbrier River and along part of the Chesapeake and Ohio railway known as the Gravel Girtie route from Hinton to Clifton Forge, Virginia.
“Geologists in North America use the terms ‘Mississippian’ and ‘Pennsylvanian’ to describe the time period between 358.9 and 298.9 million years ago,” according to the National Park Service.
Snowflakes’ Mississippian limestone is in the Greenbrier Group of geology that deals with the origin, composition, distribution, and succession of strata. Mindat.org, an outreach project of the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, describes it as “marine limestone, and marine and non-marine red and gray shale, and minor sandstone beds in numerous formational units.”
The quarry, its labor force and a large portion of the mountain are long gone, but a few things have carried on.
Homes remain after “Louis Longanacre had a vision to preserve, restore, and repurpose houses from the original Snowflake Village, a community mining limestone to make gravel. He moved the houses and retained the 1900s architectural theme. The church is the original church,” according to the Greenbrier Valley Multiple Listing Service of Greenbrier Valley Board of Realtors as the entire village is now up for sale. Longanacre Properties has been providing shelter to families in the unincorporated town of Snowflake since 1929.
These homes may remain, but one form of shelter was removed along with much of the mountain—an emergency fallout shelter. Starting in the 1960s, a cave inside the summit was used by the Civil Defense Preparedness Agency (DCPA) to hold supplies in anticipation of a large-scale radioactive event.
“During the Community Fallout Shelter program the Office of Civil Defense provided supplies to be stocked in marked community shelters,” according to the Civil Defense Museum. “These supplies were very minimal survival supplies which would have provided shelterees with food, water and sanitation needs for an allotted two-week shelter stay. The plan was to provide each shelteree with one quart of water per day, 700 calories of food per day, sanitation supplies and radiation detection instruments.”
The government packed fallout shelter food inside the cave near Fort Spring such as crackers and carbohydrate supplement, or hard candy, later known as “cave candy,” to provide “10,000 calories total per shelteree for the designated two-week shelter stay.”
The shelter was also stocked with sanitation kits consisting “of 22-inch high by 16-inch diameter fiberboard drums filled with sanitation supplies. These drums were to serve as the shelter chemical toilets until the water drums were emptied and became available to be used as toilets.”
Those drums contained a plastic commode seat, manual can opener, sanitary napkins, polyethelene gloves, plastic cups with lids, commode chemicals, toilet tissue and more.
According to the Civil Defense Museum, “The stocking of fallout shelters began in the early 1960s when DCPA procured 165,000 tons of shelter food. The food and other supplies were granted to the states and localities and placed in approximately 100,000 fallout shelters around the United States during the period 1962-1970. In 1969, it was decided not to renew efforts for federal stocking when it became obvious that Congress would no longer appropriate funds for shelter supplies. In 1976, as the result of laboratory and other tests, it was established that there was a high probability that most of the cereal-based rations stored in fallout shelters had become rancid. In view of these facts, DCPA Circular 76-2, Shelter Supplies, dated September 29, 1976, was promulgated that provided the status on cereal-based food and medicines in shelters. It authorized these stocks to be disposed of but recommended usable supplies in the medical and sanitation kits to be retained in the shelters.” (DCPA Civil Preparedness Guide 1-19 July 1978)
Inside the medical kits were aspirin tablets, eye and nose drops, isopropyl alcohol, penicillin tablets, white petrolatum, surgical soap, water purification tablets, bandages, gauze, cotton swabs and other first-aid necessities.
These lingering supplies produced childhood memories for several growing up through the great inflation era of the late 70s and recession of the early 80s as they ventured inside a cave to mine for candy, albeit a possible act of trespassing and thievery for which statute of limitations have long since passed.
Families, who will not be named here, trolled the cave for buckets of sanitation items. Although the toilet tissue and sanitary napkins bore a slight odor of mildew, they were still “usable.” The fiberboard drums made great storage containers. Despite expiration dates printed on the bottles, the aspirin still offered relief from minor aches and pains, and the penicillin could cure many ailments in pets and farm animals. Bandages, gauze, cotton swabs and the like, although no longer sterile, could be useful in non-medical applications.
The tasteless, stale crackers were virtually inedible by humans, but hogs enjoyed them when soaked with water or mixed with kitchen scraps or milk from an overproducing family cow.
And who within these families didn’t love the cherry and pineapple rock hard, “cave candy” held in huge square metal cans? Once emptied, the cans served as the perfect nesting box for the chicken house.
It was a lowly mountain once, but for a time it served as a cornucopia packed with anomalous needs and desires.
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