E. Market St., Marietta

Through a big wooden door in the living room is a cavern, dug deep in the ground of a Marietta home.

More than 20 years ago, Shawn and Whitney McGrew were young parents searching for a starter home.

Whitney spotted a home in Marietta that needed a lot of work. Yet it had something Shawn needed to see for himself so she gave him a call.

“It has a cave,” he says, remembering that call.

Through a big wooden door and down a long ramp was a cavern, dug deep in the ground and stretching to the end of the backyard.

They made the house with a cave their home, renovating it several times as their family grew. Now that it’s time to move south, the house is back on the market with its dungeon basement. The mystery of why it’s there is still unsolved.

A starter home

When the McGrews and their son Chase moved into the house in 1998, the home had two bedrooms, one bathroom and damage from a leaky roof.

Yes, the house has a cave but it’s special to Shawn McGrew for more important reasons.

“All of our kids grew up in it,” he says. “It was our first house and the history that we have, we built a lot of it ourselves.”

With help from friends, they fixed the damage and changed the layout. They raised the ceilings and added a large picture window at the front. They added a third bedroom, a second bathroom and replaced the narrow spiral staircase, all important after Whitney had three more boys.

During construction, they found a sign congratulating former owners.

Those same former owners showed up when the McGrews had an open house on the same day as Marietta’s candlelight tour. They learned the house was built in the 1980s.

It took longer to learn more about the mysterious cave.

Put yourself inside the cave with this 360-degree view:

Big plans

While just about every inch of the house was changed, the renovations downstairs weren’t as extensive. McGrew added railroad ties as steps, replacing an earthen ramp. He added lights overhead but a work light still comes in handy in the cavernous space.

Through the years, they had lots of ideas about how to use the space.

“We thought it would be fun to put a swimming pool in, an underground swimming pool. It would have been neat to put a billiards or game room in,” Shawn McGrew says. “We even talked about putting in a skate park.”

Underground history

Piecing together the history of the cave has taken time.

A neighbor who grew up in Marietta remembers the site was a horse stable and beer distributor.

“They used the cave as a cold cellar to store the beer,” Shawn McGrew says.

However, the business didn’t come up in a search a historian conducted.

“The Scoop on Marietta: A Small River Town” is filled with history of the river town but doesn’t mention the cave on Market Street. Author Marilyn Baker Alarie died in 2020. Her sister, Karen Baker Sullivan, who is on the board of the Marietta Community House, notes that most of the borough is on top of limestone, including natural caves. But any stories are hearsay.

While the facts are few, there are clues about the past.

Perhaps this space was a bomb shelter. The McGrews found an artillery shell there. Maybe that was a landmark to tell people where to find the shelter, Shawn McGrew says.

Maybe it stored ice carved from the river decades ago. Maybe it was part of the Underground Railroad or Prohibition.

A search of public records and LNP archives traces the property back to the early 1800s as one of the parcels John Myers laid out, completing the central and eastern sections of the borough. Moving backward in time, the street changes from Market Street to Second Street. In the 1950s, it had four frame garages. The trail stops in the 1918 bankruptcy case of John A. Mouk.

Mouk was a farmer and insurance agent who also owned Chickies Park. He operated a coal office in Marietta. Perhaps he stored coal in this cave?

He was a notable beekeeper with hives near the old Brick Tavern. He usually harvested about 1,000 pounds of honey each season, according to newspaper records. Was this space his honey hole?

In the backyard, Shawn McGrew points out the cave’s two vents. The far end of the cavern has caved in, but it looks like it extends all the way to East Prospect Avenue. Across the street is a former silk mill where he’s heard there’s a similar stone archway that’s now sealed.

Selling underground

It’s now up to the cave’s next owner to unravel the mystery.

After Whitney’s death, most of the McGrew family’s ready for a slower pace and are moving south to a spot with fewer neighbors and lower taxes, says Shawn McGrew, who owns an auto garage down the street.

A real estate auction in December only attracted one bid, which was far too low. Natalia Latsios, a Realtor with Century 21 Home Advisors, Lancaster, is now the listing agent.

She likes how the front patio has a tall fence that, when closed, creates a private space. Inside, the open living room overlooks the patio through the large picture window. Throughout the home are built-in nooks and crannies. There’s a first-floor bedroom as well.

And there’s a cave.

During an open house, people said they’d love to turn the space into a wine cellar, a cigar room or a speakeasy, Latsios says.

“Or a true man cave,” she says.

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