Maplewood History: William Lyman Thomas – Spelunker and Other Cave Stories


William Lyman Thomas needs no introduction to regular readers of this site. If you are not one of those, here is a link to a post that has links to the 27 other posts I have made regarding Mr. Thomas and family.  27 posts about the Sutton/Thomas families.

What follows is a very interesting article that ran March 25, 1888 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  It mentions a cave in Ellendale that was once explored by Mr. Thomas who along with his wife Kate Sutton were the owners of Ellendale and the developers of the same.  I suspect many of my readers know that Ellendale is the name of a subdivision adjacent to Maplewood but lying within the boundaries of the City of St. Louis.  They also may remember (but this is a long shot) that William and Kate named Ellendale after their daughter, Ella.  I know.  Go figure.

Furthermore readers blessed with long memories may recall that I once made a post about a cave that I had been made aware of by my good friend Gary Tash. This cave, which I requested be named Sutton Cave, is in fact in Ellendale.  If you’d like to read that post again, here is the link.  Sutton Cave.

The question in my mind now (and probably in yours after you read this article) is, “Are the Ellendale Cave and the Sutton Cave one and the same?”  You be the judge.

Just by coincidence I happened to watch an excellent video made by the Missouri Historical Society about the rediscovery of the English Cave.  English Cave Video.

In the first paragraph the author makes a prediction that the insufficiently watered River Des Peres will follow Mill Creek into the business of refuse carrying. It will be hidden from sight, walled up, entombed, he said.  Well he was exactly right.  The refuse carrying business of the River Des Peres now happens out of sight below the stream bed that we are familiar with.

Also you may wonder just where was Benton and Benton Hall?  Benton was just east of Ellendale and I believe was swallowed up by today’s metropolis of Dogtown.  As for the location of the hall, look no further.

There you have it.  The location of Benton Hall was at the corner of Prather and Manchester Road.  Much thanks to Chrissie Hayes McConnell for the Benton Hall memorabilia, to Gary Tash for the Sutton Cave location and to Gary Shedron for the English Cave video.

I feel rejuvenated a bit after the events of November 3rd.  Since we’re all wearing masks, just imagine that everyone is smiling.

Doug Houser    November 14, 2020


  1. Reader Margaret had this to say by email: I do not know if I wrote of this before. On St Elmo and Manhattan there is an old house. One of the few houses facing St Elmo. Anyway a past occupant told me that they did not ever pay for sewers since they had no sewers. She claimed there was a cave under the house and that is where all their sewage went. I wondered if that was true. However after reading your article about the caves, perhaps. Also we often walk along McCausland and I have noticed in several areas springs that are full of water year round. I believe where you find a spring you find a cave, might be mistaken about that.
    As always your articles lead me down a wonderful rabbit hole.

    • The story you heard about the home whose sewer drained into a cave certainly could be true. The part about them never having to pay a sewer bill seems unlikely. There may be some truth to the spring and cave theory. One way caves are formed is by water. I think that you most likely could not always find a cave entrance near a spring. Thank you, Margaret, for your very interesting comment. Just remember before you head down that wonderful rabbit hole make certain you have the PPE.

      • I was told the same thing about a house’s waste draining into a cave by the Maplewood building inspector many years ago.

  2. I agree about the danger of exploring them in person. With today’s technology I thought maybe some sort of remote control thing could show or see some of what is down there. Not sure why it interests me so but it does. I am also surprised to see on the news things like “car or house swallowed up by cave collapse” And makes me wonder what might be going on under my house.

  3. I see the BVO Club was meeting at Bartold’s Hall. Was that the same place as Benton Hall? It might have been at Bartold’s Grove, which was at Manchester and Hanley.

    • Esley, Bartold’s Hall is definitely not the same place as Benton Hall. I think you are correct in thinking it was at Bartold’s Grove. It may have been within the roadhouse there. I have found no evidence of any other large building ever having been located on that site. For those who would like a little more information about Bartold’s Grove, here is a link.

  4. I watched the English Cave video and was surprised that it was done this March. I do not remember hearing or reading anything about it this spring. But I guess COVID got all the attention. I have always liked caves but even the ones like Meramac Cave that are set up for tourists and safe still kind of creep me out. The thought of the unknown, the vastness of some of them. Our neighbor had what we kids called a cave. Maybe only 10 feet deep area in a hillside, all stone roof and floor. We used to wonder how many Indians and outlaws hid in there as we played and hiked the woods around it.

    Any chance of some more exploration of the caves you have mentioned in Maplewood? I am asking, not volunteering to do the exploration.

    • Hey Mark, Forgive me for taking so long to give you an answer. To be honest I forgot about your question. I think it is unlikely that any more exploring will be done of these caves. The main reason is that sewage seems to always find its way in to them especially when the surrounding area is highly developed. The cave experts told me that it is extremely hazardous to enter one without the proper equipment for breathing. None of them seemed anxious to explore one. Also they told me of a cave entrance in the backyard of one of the homes on McCausland. The entrance is now capped with a manhole cover. They attempted to explore this cave. To begin with it is a 70 foot drop straight down. They lowered themselves in along with some plywood and two-by-fours to hopefully stabilize some of the walls. While they were standing on a boulder about the size of a car, it moved. At that point they deemed it was too unstable and could collapse so they got the heck out. I believe there are very dangerous sections of most caves. Exploring them for no good reason is foolhardy.

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