The land at the foot of Sand Mountain in northeast Alabama that his great-great grandfather settled in 1841 was the attraction that at one time drew nearly 12,000 visitors a year.
The caverns offers waterfalls, writing on the walls that date back to the early 1800s and reflection pools that provide stunning views of the rock formations suspended from its ceiling.
Farm animals such as oxen, sheep, goats and horses also roam the property, and Lookout Point Trail leads to the top of beautiful Wills Valley.
The area was once the home of the Cherokee. The most famous among them, Sequoyah, created an alphabet for his people at Wills Town.
Sequoyah Caverns would not become known for gimmicks; its nature and history were enough.
Jones, who will soon turn 80, knew that a changing tourism industry would not support his decision for long.
“Young people want something that’s interactive. If we were to put in a Dollywood right here, it would attract people,” Jones said.
Several years ago, numbers began to drop off as a result of the recession and spike in gas prices.
Fewer people are now willing to exit I-59 north near Valley Head knowing that Sequoyah Caverns is the only thing to see there. Chattanooga with its wide variety of attractions is only 35 miles away.
After nearly 50 years of business, Sequoya Caverns is set to close on Sept. 3.
A friend of the family opened the attraction in 1964. Today, it is run by Jones and his son, Roy.
The family is also continuing the tradition of farming the land that their ancestors started more than 150 years ago.
Sequoyah Caverns and Ellis Homestead is open Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with guided tours available daily. Admission is $15.95 per adult, $8.95 per child, and free for children 3 years and under.
Other things to do in the Dekalb County area:
•The Alabama Fan Club and Museum celebrates the career of Fort Payne natives Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook. The group had 42 number one singles and sold more than 73 million records. Life-sized bronze statues of the members of Alabama are on display in downtown Forty Payne.
•Little River Canyon features three major waterfalls, including Alabama’s highest. According to the Alabama Department of Tourism website, there is a 23-mile drive along the canyon’s rim that offers spectacular views into the 700-foot-deep gorge.
The 14,000-acre site around Little River Canyon is now a national preserve.
•DeSoto State Park was voted one of America’s Top 10 State Parks by Camping Life. It features 3,500 acres spread along the outer ridge of Lookout Mountain. It also has 12 miles of hiking trails.