Allegheny Outdoor Adventures Bradford, PA

Neilly's Cave

A long lost Bradford legend!

(Hidden since 1938) 

The search for Neilly's Cave

A few months back somebody alerted me to a couple issues of the Bradford Era that had mention of a cave, a "Neilly's Cave", in their "Round the Square" section.

This is the first time I heard of "Neilly's Cave" even though I've been searching for caves in this area for about the past 30 years. A lot of people in the area know me as "the cave guy". My outdoors group, the Allegheny Outdoor Adventures Group, does adventure hikes, including many cave visits!

I've authored guide maps to some of the regions better known caves and large rock areas. I have documented about 190 large rock and cave areas over the years. I've gotten pretty good at chasing down rumors of caves in that time.

To have not heard anything about Neilly's Cave in all those years seemed odd to me. I wondered if Neilly's Cave was fact or fiction. It was hard for me to believe that I could miss a cave so close to Bradford!

Then a few weeks ago, somebody put some old articles from the Bradford Era on facebook talking about Neilly's Cave. Articles written by Francis X Scully in the mid 70's. Apparently Francis Scully looked for, but never found Neilly's cave. But he did interview people who have been to Neilly's Cave, and he provided some clues to its whereabouts.

Often times, rumors of caves have conflicting, confusing, or inaccurate information about them. Sometimes stories of the caves combine features of other caves or nearby caves, or flat out exaggerations. Such was the case of Neilly's Cave. The rumors are half fact, half fiction.

Early in my search, I heard stores that Neilly's Cave may have been near Stone Ave down near the hospital end of Interstate Parkway in Bradford. But then I got conflicting information that it was at the other end of Interstate Parkway "across the street from the old Sportsman's Club", near a "sharp bend in Interstate Parkway". I heard more rumors that it was near the Sportsman's Club, than down the road near town.

Some of the other "rumors" of Neilly's Cave was that it was a cave "big enough to hold 12 bears", that it was tall enough for a man to stand erect, that it was the areas only "real" cave. Somebody who visited it many years ago said it had old metal cans of food in it. And the rumors report a "cliff" nearby, and just outside the door was a "rock porch". It was also said it was near the Neilly farmstead. And that it had a "stacked stone wall" built by lumberman from long ago. The story says that the cave was actually found by lumberman working the area way on back and it's believed they spent the night in the cave at times. The cave was reportedly visited from "all the kids in the third ward", and even "all the kids in town". Way back in the 1920's and 1930's. Scully wrote in 1977 that there were no reports of anybody visiting the cave since 1938.

The fact that nobody I knew heard of the cave or ever seen one in the "Stone Ave." area or "bowl", along with the fact that nobody has reported going there since 1938, made me think the cave may have been blown up and closed off similar to the way they closed old abandon coal mines back in the day. To prevent kids or adults from getting hurt.

I talked with a couple friends who live near that area and claim to have grown up "running that hillside". People who are avid outdoorsman and should most certainly know where that cave is .... IF it existed!

But being the stubborn old fool that I am sometimes, I searched for the cave anyhow. Stubborn and obsessive!

The first large rock area I found was across the street from the Sportsman's Club .... "right where it should have been", or so I thought at the time. It had a few nice, larger cave openings going into the hillside, but somebody built a gravel pit right there and bulldozed a bunch of rocks, gravel and trees over the entrances to the caves. Although I could see into them, it would have taken some digging and chain sawing of trees to open them big enough for a human to get in and out.

I thought I had found "Neilly's Cave, but it had been blocked off years ago. That would explain why there are no "modern reports" of the cave. Or so I reasoned.

Then I got some "new tips" about the cave. New information that it may have been a bit closer to the NY State line. So I located another large rock area that had several caves in it that could "hold twelve bear", my standard of measurement of Neilly's Cave. But I also found a much bigger cave! One that might hold two or three dozen bear!

But this cave did not have the "stacked rock wall" or the "food cans", or the rock porch. But the rear exit was facing a "cliff face". Once again I thought I had found Neilly's Cave!

But then, the person who posted originally, posted some more information on it. They heard that the cave was most definitely in the Stone Ave area. The additional info came from a relative of the Neilly's. It's said the cave was in a rock area they called "Neilly's Rocks" and that it could be seen from the fourth floor of the hospital. And that the building of a pipeline from Interstate Parkway to Bolivar Drive exposed the view of the rocks. Also the rock area was somewhere between the end of Stone Ave, to "just past the ridge behind the Bradford Township fire hall".

Finding Neilly's Cave- FINALLY!

Well, after finding three cave areas in the past three days (evenings after work!) I am finally sure I found "Neilly's Cave" ... right where it should be!

I got some false information about the cave from various sources, but DID manage to find two other cave areas across the street from the Sportsman's Club. And the biggest, nicest cave I found, was found there. But this cave I found today, June 15th 2013, IS Neilly's cave! It's still there and looks like nobody has been in it since 1938 ... as reported!

There is no modern litter in this cave, and it looks to be untouched since the 1930's or so, and I'd like to see it remain like that.

The rock area it is found in (Neilly's Rocks) wraps around the hill and can be seen from the hospital. I would say if the Neilly's had a few hundred acres, it was in the back corner of their property.

The rock above the cave is covered in moss and trees, I moved some and saw some carvings, but could not read them all. I really did not want to uncover them. I moved some moss just to be sure there were initials or carvings in the rock to be sure this was Neilly's Cave.

I was convinced that Neilly's Cave didn't exist any more just because I heard from a bunch of people who hunt and hike on that ridge who say they never seen it. I can't blame my "outdoor explorer friends" for missing this ... it IS tucked away in a hard to reach corner, and can be easily missed! But I just had to cover the whole hillside myself with a fine tooth comb, just to be sure. I did a big zig-zag up the ridge to be sure I didn't miss it. I had to climb and drop in elevation several times (200' each time).

All in all it was worth the effort! Later last night, I went BACK to Neilly's Cave for a second time in a day (I must be in great shape!), with a few friends to have dinner in the cave! And just to have others who are "living proof" (besides my photos!) that the cave is still there ..... AND REAL ... verses just an old rumor!

Here are some photos:

Looking up into Neilly's Cave from the boulder field below


Approaching the cave from the north


Outside the cave entrance


The inner south wall


The cooking/heating stove


Years of names and initials carved in the rocks above the cave


Looking out the main entrance


Yours truly inside the main room.


Original text and photo copyright JVS 2019 3/5/2005)

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