Luray Caverns’ family owners are feuding

The six Graves siblings who own Luray Caverns in northern Virginia are fighting over money and control, the Washington Post Magazine noted in a lengthy report. The three youngest siblings sued two of their older sisters in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, Va., saying the sisters should be disqualified as beneficiaries of the family trusts and should not receive any shares of Luray Caverns Corp. The fourth-generation siblings "have been in near-constant litigation for most of the past 10 years," the Post Magazine article said.

Luray Caverns, a U.S. Natural Landmark, is the third most-visited cave in the U.S. and is worth about $20 million, the report noted.

The caverns were discovered in 1878. Theodore Clay Northcott (known as the Colonel), great-grandfather of the feuding siblings, bought the caverns in 1905.

Rebecca Graves Hudson became president in 2004 and then was demoted. According to one version of events, her jealous younger siblings, led by Cornelia Graves Spain, turned their parents against Rebecca. Another version says Rebecca was an overbearing manager who tried to take money from the business for herself, the Post Magazine article said. Brother John Graves is now president. Another brother, Rod Graves, is vice president. Cornelia works in marketing. The older siblings do not currently work for the Caverns.

Rebecca helped create "salary-continuation agreements" for herself and her two brothers, which were put in place without a board vote, the article said. Her arrangement allegedly was more lucrative than her brothers', unbeknownst to them, the Post Magazine reported. The Caverns sued to rescind the agreements; her brothers voluntarily rescinded theirs, and the sides settled before the case went to trial. The Caverns sued Nathan Miller, the attorney who had advised Rebecca and had served as general counsel. Miller, who had been a trustee on the trusts that controlled most of the shares in Luray Caverns Corp., sued the other trustee, Rebecca's mother. The older siblings feuded with their younger siblings and their parents over who should replace Miller.

Meanwhile, the parents rewrote their wills and put in no-contest provisions that would be triggered if any of the siblings opposed their parents on appointments to the trusts, the article said. The younger siblings sued older sisters Katherine Graves Fichtler and Elizabeth Graves Vitu to void their inheritances; the case was dismissed because the judge said Rebecca must be a party to the case, and that the case should be heard in state court.

The family is bound together by a buy/sell agreement, which restricts their ability to sell to non-family members. When the agreement was created in 2000, the family rejected the idea of turning management over to a third party, the Post Magazine article said. (Source: Washington Post Magazine, March 14, 2013.)