Buckingham Cave in Pennsylvania

How did Buckingham Cave in Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about Buckingham Cave in Pennsylvania, the people who settled on it, and the industry rising around it.

Few residents of Buckingham Township of today know that more than eighty years ago a cavern was discovered in a quarried hillside at the southeastern end of the present town of Buckingham. It was located on property now owned by Theodore Kline, attorney-at-law, about two hundred feet west of the Old York Road (Route 155). Nothing remains now of this cave except a small hole in the ground and an opening through which a child could crawl without difficulty. The cave was first brought to public attention by a letter to the Bucks County Intelligences, January 4, 1859, by Joseph Fell, who was the first Superintendent of Public Instruction for Bucks County (1854-1857). As Mr. Fell’s letter contains the only correct description extant of this cave, the letter is copied herewith verbatim:

Friends Prizer & Darlington:-Your note in the last Intelligencer, relative to the recent discovery of a cave in Buckingham not being exactly correct, I take the liberty of forwarding to you a brief account of it from actual exploration and measurement, which you are at liberty to use as you see proper.

On Christmas night one of my sons informed me that he, in company with three or four other boys, had been examining, with the aid of candles, a cave in Centreville, near the barn of Dr. Charles Mathews, and that they found the name “M. Doan, 1775,” carved on the limestone rock. I inquired of him when the cave was first discovered. He said the teacher of their school had found it about eighteen months before, and that some of the boys in the village had enlarged its mouth and been down in it during the last summer, but that no name was ever discovered there before that (Christmas) day.

My curiosity being considerably excited, I visited the place a day or two afterwards, in company with some of the neighbors, and made a descent into this subterranean vault, prepared with suitable instruments for ascertaining its dimensions. The mouth of it is of an irregular shape, from two to three feet across. We descended by means of a ladder about eighteen feet to a floor that was neither smooth nor level. Here was an opening above us large and high enough for a dozen men to stand erect. In two directions from this place, northwest and southeast, were fissures or clefts, thirty feet in length from their extreme points, arched with pseudo limestone, at an angle of about 35 degs., very much resembling in shape the roof of a house. This false limestone could easily be cut with a knife. The northwest passage was about five feet high at the entrance, but gradually diminished in altitude as the rocks composing its sides approached each other until it terminated in a point. On one side of the rocks forming this roof were the name and date above mentioned.

To the right of this, partially separated by the same kind of rocks as before alluded to, was a smaller recess, very similar in shape to the former, excepting the northwestern extremity of it ran down several feet lower than the foot of the ladder.

On the other side, southeast of the main opening, the apartments present an uncouth appearance, some of the chambers running up towards the top of the cave, and others down, deep into the earth. Most of them are so narrow that a man would find it difficult to pass between the rocks. One, in the eastern corner, much larger than the others on that side, sloped down several feet, and seemed to communicate with others still lower. By dropping stones down some of the openings, it was evident the structure beneath was cavernous.

On the main southeast aperture, nine feet from the bottom, in, as far as a man could reach, I found, with the aid of my candle, the following inscription, in the position here represented, deeply cut in the rock, but nearly filled with its abraded substance:

1775. M.
DOAN.

The figures are of antiquated formation, and are disposed as much like the above as I could well represent them.

At the time this den was occupied by the Doans, of which there can be but little doubt, the opening to it must have been fifteen feet above where it now is. The country was then a forest, and of course no quarry at that time had been opened there. The case is now different; limestone and grit or common sandstone are found here in abundance, and for several years past have been dug out and hauled away in large quantities. A road at least fifteen feet in depth was opened a few years since by the side of this cave, and it is from the side of this road we commence our descent into it.

This novel discovery will doubtless urge many visitors to the spot where one of the most bold and daring men that ever lived had doubtless secreted himself after his marauding expeditions, or when hotly pursued by his vigilant foes, who were stimulated by the offer of large rewards to apprehend him.

Gen. Howe, who was well acquainted with the prowess of the Doans, remarked that they “were the most devil-daring fellows that ever lived.” There were seven of them, all athletic men, full six feet high, possessed of courage and activity seldom equaled-never excelled. So far as deeds of daring are concerned, they rank with Allen A. Lop, Rhoderic Dhu, Robin Hood, Little John, or the MacLeods or MacDonalds of historical notoriety. Moses Doan, as many of your readers know, was shot in 1783, the 28th of August, in an old dilapidated building, near the mouth of the Tohickon creek in this county.

Buckingham, 1st mo. 1st, 1859. Joseph Fell.

Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.

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