Whitestone provides a great home base from which to venture out toward a variety of East Tennessee attractions. One of my favorites is the world’s largest underwater lake, The Lost Sea, in nearby Sweetwater, TN. This underground body of water is part of a vast series of caves known as Craighead Caverns. In the 1820’s, the first white settlers discovered this cave system, which included numerous huge rooms. From artifacts discovered later, we know that the caves had previously been used by the Cherokee people who inhabited the area.
Once settlers discovered the caves, they were subsequently used for a variety of purposes at various times. With a constant underground temperature of 58 degrees, the caves provided excellent storage space for food. To aid in the production of gunpowder, Confederate soldiers mined saltpeter from them during the Civil War, and in the early 1900’s, one room became a dance hall. Moonshiners also took advantage of the system of caves for the clandestine production of their illegal products.
The Lost Sea itself was discovered in 1905 by Ben Sands, a thirteen year old boy who wiggled through a small muddy opening 300 feet underground and found himself in a room that contained a huge lake. He threw mudballs far into the darkness to try to determine its size, but only heard splashes in response. It has since been determined that the visible part of the Lost Sea is 4.5 acres, but even modern technology has not assessed the vast reaches of the unseen body of water.
Tours of this Registered National Landmark begin with a ¾ mile round-trip walk on a sloping path walk through the caverns, during which time, your guide reveals the caves’ colorful history and geological formations. At the bottom of the cave, you board a glass-bottomed boat and explore the lake itself. The lake is 140 feet underground, so the walk back up can be a hike, but the temperature is always a comfortable 58 degrees. Daily tours last about an hour and fifteen minutes.
When the brochures state that The Lost Sea Sweetwater TN is an attraction you will not forget, I can personally testify to it. The first time I visited many years ago, I came out amazed that the whole world wasn’t lined up to go in, and I eagerly shared the experience with anyone who would listen.
Enjoy a stay at Whitestone, and venture out to discover this and other unique treasures of East Tennessee!
by: Valerie Bryant Bennett