History Nebraska Funding Digital Map of Lincoln’s Robber’s Cave

Lincoln’s Robbers Cave is a fantastic historical resource, but years of tours have started to degrade the inscriptions that make it so unique.

The solution? Work with Nebraska Civil and Environmental Engineering to create a digital map of the entire 5000 sq. ft cave.

Dr. Richard Wood and Yijun Liao scanning Robber's Cave

UNL’s Dr. Richard Wood and Yijun Liao scanning Robber’s Cave using LiDar. Photo Credit: Joel Green, author and tour guide

It’s not every day you get to be part of an ambitious National Register of Historic Places nomination, but that’s exactly what we’re doing! History Nebraska’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is funding a first of its kind project to use LiDAR scanning to digitally map the interior of Lincoln’s Robber’s Cave for use in a National Register of Historic Places nomination. This is the first time that a digital map like this will have been used to support a National Register nomination.

Robber’s Cave is a 5,000-square-foot, hand-dug cave located in Lincoln, Nebraska. In the late 1800s, German immigrants expanded a shallow natural cave located near Salt Creek by tunneling through soft Dakota Sandstone. Their excavation created three parallel chambers used for storing grain and barrels used at their local brewery. After the brewery closed, the Scarborough family bought the land in the early 1900s and opened the cave as a tourist attraction until the 1980s. During the cave’s long history, it served as a dance hall, party room, meeting room, movie theater, concert venue, and community center. One activity consistent through all of these iterations was to have attendees inscribe their name or an image into the soft sandstone.

Over years of public tours, the engraved images have begun to erode from the walls and are now harder to see due to moss and vegetation growth. In order to capture and preserve these engravings before they completely disappear, this project utilizes the most highly detailed visual recording processes available, LiDAR scanning. The scans will provide a digital record of all physical manifestations within Robber’s Cave so that they can be accurately preserved, studied, and disseminated no matter how many future tours are given.

An initial pilot study earlier this year produced this amazing image.

A digitally recreated image of the interior of Robbers Cave

A digitally recreated image of the interior of Robbers Cave. Credit: Dr. Richard Wood, UNL College of Engineering

We’re excited to see the results of this process when they’re presented along with the full National Register of Historic Places nomination at the public Nebraska State Historic Preservation Board meeting January 2020.

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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