Indian Caverns


Useful Information

location map, © Indian Caverns, with kind permission by Bill Wertz
Location: 5374 Indian Trail, Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania
(40.6452, -78.0912)
Open: closed.
Fee: closed.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave horizontal cave. Ordovician Nealmont/Benner limestone.
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=650 m, VR=14 m, T=13 °C
Guided tours:  
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography: Kevin Patrick (2004): Pennsylvania Caves & other rocky roadside wonders, 248 pp, illus, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pa, USA.
p 6, 10, 28, 29, 45, 60-61, 76, 125-28, 129-30, 140, 143, 154-55, 166, 171, 226.
Ralph W Stome (1932): Pennsylvania Caves, Pennsylvania Geological Survey Fourth Series, Bulletin G3 p 82-86 survey, 2 photos.
Address:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

more than 400 years known to the Indians.
19th century known to the white settlers.
1816 oldest tag on the cave wall in the Writing room.
1816-1820 used as a hideout by David Lewis, "The Robin Hood of Pennsylvania", and his band of robbers.
1928 Lenore and Harold "Hubby" Wertz from nearby Tyron visited the cave and after some digging discovered Giant's Hall.
1928 Hubby and Lenore Wertz began to develop the cavern then called Franklin Cave.
1928 During construction work 400 years old arrowheads were found in the first room. A team of archaeologists and anthropologists excavated more than 500 artifacts belonging to the Mohawk and Algonquian tribes.
15-JUN-1929 opened to the public as Historic Indian Cave.
1930's name changed to Indian Caverns.
OCT-2016 show cave closed.


Description

The Giant's Hall, © Indian Caverns, with kind permission by Bill Wertz.

First of all: Indian Cavern is finally closed as a show cave and is now a bat sanctuary! We will keep this page for historic reasons.


Indian Caverns has three outstanding features:

  1. The geological features in the Room of the Fireflies.
  2. The archaeological findings of native Americans.
  3. The historical story of David Lewis, who used this cave as hideout.

The Grotto of the Wah Wah Taysee, also known as the Room of the Fireflies, derives its name from small glowing spots in the rock. When the room is totally dark, the ceiling looks like the night sky, with star-like spots scattered across it. Small deposit of radium embedded in the rock produce a low-level radiation and a glow of visible light. As there are no smoke deposits from torches or campfires, unlike the rest of the historic part of the cave, it is believed that the Indians shunned this room, possibly believing it to be the haunt of evil spirits.

The Indian Council Room, © Indian Caverns, with kind permission by Bill Wertz.

The last paragraph is what the guides told for decades. Sounds good, but unfortunately it was a fake. Since 2004, when the first negotiations with the owners started, the Huntington County Cave Hunters, a local caving club, started to do speleological research on this cave. Samples of the luminescent spots where collected and analyzed by Prof. William B. White and the results published in Nittany Grotto News, volume 52 number 2. The chemical examination revealed that the spots are synthetic phosphor painted onto the ceiling, not a natural mineral. However, this happened long ago, the zinc-cadmium sulfide which was used was developed in the 1920s for luminescent dials of watches and other displays. The development of the cave took place between 1928 and 1929, so it was probably placed before. The glowing became known in 1930 when it was described in the first edition of Pennsilvania Caves by R. W. Stone. It is unknown who faked the glowing light, probably the Wertzes, probably the previous owner who tried to sell the cave. It was the time of the cave wars, things like this happened, and it is not really astonishing. Pretty astonishing is the fact, that the luminescent colour still works almost unchanged after such a long time in the wet and cool conditions of the cave.

But the exploration and documentation by the cavers continued. During the years 2005 and 2006 the cave was surveyed and also nearby Bear Den Cave, which was connected by a surface survey. The results were published in 2007 in The Cave Hunter, together with historic maps from 1930 and 1968.

David Lewis, known as "The Robin Hood of Pennsylvania", was a notorious highwayman of the early Nineteenth Century. Calling himself an equalizer, he reputedly stole from the wealthy to assist the poor. He and his band of robbers used the cave as a hideout from 1816 until his apprehension in 1820. At this time the cave was called Franklin Cave.

Before his death, Lewis claimed to have hidden some $20,000 worth of gold - reportedly in the cave. Several treasure-hunters have spent years searching for this hidden loot. One resident of Franklin Township spent over twenty years in a vain search for it. Armed with a lantern and a ball of twine, used as a marker lest he become lost in the labyrinth of passages, he kept up his tireless search until death ended his quest in the early 1920s. A completely futile enterprise as the gold is stolen and it would be illegal to keep it.

The cave was in operation for almost 90 years, and the whole time it was owned and operated by the Wertz family. The begin was not very promising, as only four months after the opening the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. As a result people had no money for cave tours and the cave was closed. The family moved to Miami, Florida where they eventually opened an Indian trading post. They returned only for the summer months to operate the cave. In 1941, after the death of Lenore Wertz in a car accident, the family moved back to Pennsylvania. The cave was operated by Harold A. "Hubby" Wertz and his son Harold A. "Bear" Wertz, Jr. from 1941 to Hubbys death in 1987, then Bear operated the cave until his death in 2004. In the following years several family members ran the cave for a few years, but either they all did it as a pastime for retirement or there is a curse, because they all died after a few years. At the end the family decided to sell the whole property.

The cave was closed and is now under the supervision of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Its "use" as a bat sanctuary is obviously a legend, as there is no such thing as a bat sanctuary. It just means that it is forbidden to enter the cave except for scientific reasons and so the bats are almost undisturbed. The gated show cave entrance is quite useful for this.


Images and most information on this page with kind permission by Bill Wertz.