Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Whatever Happened to Fountain Cave?

Pierre Parrant was also known as Pig's Eye because he was blind in one eye. He came to America from Canada in 1829, but after some trouble with the law, he moved north to Minnesota. Near Fort Snelling he started to selling whiskey to Indians, fellow squatters, and soldiers from the fort. He discovered Fountain Cave and moved his whiskey still from Fort Snelling to the cave in 1838, which provided shelter as well as running water to make whiskey. So he became the first person of European descent to live in what is now the city of St. Paul. The city formed around his cave and tavern. However, with the growth of the settlement, his liquor business was a nuisance to his new neighbours, and he was kicked out of Fountain Cave and at least three other locations. Finally in 1845 Parrant moved to Winnipeg.
After Pig's Eye's departure, the cave was used as a storehouse and then as a tourist attraction. It was described as "a marble temple", issuing water so pure it resembled "a shower of diamonds". A pavilion was opened nearby offering refreshments and lights for exploring the cave. Fountain Cave was featured in the "Tourists' Guide to the Health and Pleasure Resorts of the Golden Northwest".
But as the city grew, the sewage of the settlement and, most important, of the Omaha railroad, who used the cave as a cesspit, polluted the tourist attraction. The visits to the cave faded and finally the mouth of the cave was sealed by the construction of Shepard Road.
Fountain Cave was originally called In-Yan Ti-Pi by the local Dakota people. It was about 350m long, possibly Minnesota's longest natural sandstone cave. It was formed by the erosion by a little stream from the wetlands above. A 50m long winding passage with running water on the floor led to a circular room of 15m in diameter. Today the cave is not accessible, but there is a plate commemorating the site above.

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