Shawnee, Delaware, and Wyandot tribes frequently hunted and lived in the Hocking Hills region in the 1600s and 1700s, although archaeological evidence documents that American Indian peoples inhabited the area as early as seven thousand years ago. These American Indian tribes referred to the Hocking River as the Hockhocking, or the bottleneck river, because of the river gorge's bottle shape.
Ash Cave, located in Hocking Hills State Park, is named for enormous piles of ashes that white settlers discovered on the cave floor. Purportedly massive piles of ashes existed on the cave floor, with at least one pile supposedly being three feet deep, one hundred feet long, and thirty feet wide. The author of an old historical work on Ohio said that he "visited this grotto in 1837, and should say there was, at the time, not less than three or four hundred bushel of clear ashes, as dry and free from moisture as they were on the day they were burned."
White settlers believed that Americans Indians living in the area used Ash Cave for shelter and that the ashes were the remains of campfires that accumulated over centuries. Archaeological evidence supports these conclusions. It appears that the Shawnee primarily used Ash Cave, perhaps as a place of rest, while traveling between villages in modern-day West Virginia and central Ohio.
American Indians orators are rumored to have taken advantage of the superb acoustics of Ash Cave. The cave features whispering galleries that amplify sound, and a speaker standing on a large slump block outside the cave’s entrance can easily be heard by throngs gathered inside the cave. In modern times, this ideal natural bandshell has hosted camp and township meetings, Sunday worship services, and even choral concerts.
In 1924, the State of Ohio purchased 146 acres of land in the Hocking Hills. This purchase formally established Hocking Hills State Park. The State of Ohio eventually purchased additional land, including Ash Cave. First owned and operated by the Ohio Department of Forestry, in 1949, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Division of Parks assumed control of Hocking Hills State Park.