Recently, while maintenance was underway in the Wabaunsee County Historical Society’s annex building, located at 223 S. Missouri Street in Alma, Kansas, a hidden underground cellar or “cave” was discovered under the annex floor. The cave, built of laid limestone, featured an arched-ceiling design and included a long stone staircase which led from the inside of the annex building downstairs to the cave doorway.
The lost cave is a remnant of the very earliest buildings constructed in Alma. Originally, the underground crypt was a part of the Meyer Store, the second building ever constructed in the city of Alma. The first building, the original Wabaunsee County Courthouse, sat directly on the north side of the Meyer building, and both were constructed in 1866-1867. The original courthouse was demolished in 1906, and the Meyer store building was demolished in 1908 with the building of the “Meyer Block”.
In the earliest phase of the construction of the Meyer store included the laying of the foundation, the sidewalks, and the construction of the cellar for the storage of perishable goods. When the Meyer building was demolished in 1908 and a new store building was constructed on the lot, the cave entrance was covered by the floor of the new store building, hiding it from the public view for more than a century.
Sometime after 1926, a water line was run from the street into the store building, leaving the line ignominiously exposed, entering the former cave stairway a few feet above the cave floor.
Without the benefit of electricity or any form of refrigeration beyond ice harvested from streams in the winter, virtually every building constructed in Alma in the 1800s contained a cellar or cave beneath it for storage of perishable foodstuffs. Without a doubt, this cave is the oldest structure that exists in Alma, today.
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