at Graham Cave State Park

Preamble for the Conceptual Development Plan

History and Significance

Graham Cave State Park, located immediately north of Interstate 70 and seven miles southwest of Montgomery City, is situated in the northern edge of the Ozark Border Natural Division.  The park partially encompasses lands originally owned by Daniel Morgan Boone, son of the famous Daniel Boone.  Although small in size, the park’s 357 acres are diverse.  Natural communities range from riparian and rich bottomland forest along the Loutre River, through oak-hickory forests and savanna, to glades on both sandstone and dolomite.

Graham Cave is a visually impressive cave formed between the eroded contact of St. Peters Sandstone above and Jefferson City Dolomite below.  Dr. Robert Graham acquired a patent on the land that included the cave in 1847.  His son D.F. Graham used the cave to keep hogs, but was also the first to note the cave’s archaeological treasures in 1890.  D.F. Graham collected many archaeological artifacts in the region, including those recovered from the cave.  After his death, D.F.’s son, Benjamin, offered the collection of artifacts to Professor Jesse Wrench of the University of Missouri.  Wrench visited the cave in 1930 to assess its potential, but did little digging.  Dr. Carl Chapman and Wilfred Logan began thorough excavations shortly after World War II.  The University continued its excavations through 1955.

The results were impressive.  The deposits within the cave contained evidence of an almost continuous history of occupation over the last ten thousand years.  The lowest levels contained a thick stratum dating from about 10,000 to 9,000 years ago.  Radiocarbon dating was just being developed at that time, and the dates on the lower levels, then the oldest in the state, helped push back man’s presence in the New World.  The material recovered help archaeologists learn about a people adjusting to a significantly changed environment following the end of the Wisconsin glaciation.  This earlier occupation is known as the Dalton Period.  Subsequent occupations occurred during the Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian Periods, and are also well represented by artifacts.

These archaeological surveys were so successful and significant that the site was both registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and donated by Frances Darnell, daughter of Benjamin Graham, in 1964 to create a state park around the cave.  Graham Cave State Park was the first park in Missouri set aside solely for the protection of its archaeological resources.  The cave was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 as an excellent example of deeply stratified prehistoric archaeological deposits in eastern North America.  Walter Klippel conducted a final excavation in the cave in 1967-68.

Today the park protects not only the cave that provided shelter to Indians but also land that helped support them.  On March 22, 1989, the Missouri Natural Areas Committee designated an 82-acre tract as Graham Cave Glades Natural Area.  Glades of both sandstone and dolomite are found within the natural area, and support a rich diversity of characteristic glade species.  Because the sandstone and dolomite glades are occasionally side by side, mingling of otherwise geographically distinct plants occurs.  Furthermore, the park is located at the northern extension of the range of many plants, as well as the southern extension of others, making Graham Cave a biological crossroads.  The park contains four species of special concern:  a moss (Hypnum imponens), Mountain Spleenwort (Asplenium montanum), Yellow False Mallow (Malvastrum hispidum), and Oval Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes Ovalis var. erostellata).


The primary mission of Graham Cave State Park is to preserve and interpret its archaeological, natural and cultural features of which Graham Cave and Graham Cave Glades Natural Area are preeminent.  It is also a goal to provide recreation opportunities consistent with these resources.

Approved By

Doug Eiken, Director, Division of State Parks, 04/15/98
Larry Larson, District Supervisor, Missouri River District, 04/15/98