Monday, July 29, 2013
There's no better place to beat the heat on a hot summer day than in a dark cool cave. Crystal Cave, located in rural Berks county, Pennsylvania, draws more customers than any other cave in the "Keystone State." In fact it's regarded as the most popular natural attraction in the state. Since May of 1872 the cave has attracted millions of visitors. It was not only the first show cave to open in the state, but is also one of the earliest tourist attractions to operate in Pennsylvania. Astoundingly the cave had only been discovered slightly more than 6 months before becoming an attraction.
In November of 1871, William Merkel and assistant John Gehret were blasting for limestone to be used on the Merkel farm. The two men however made a more remarkable discovery. The two men stumbled upon a small opening in the side of a hill near the Merkel farmhouse. Digging away the exposed dirt, the men made an opening large enough to peak their curiosities. Once inside the cavernous hole the men discovered blackness.
Encouraged, and with word quickly spreading about their unusual find, the men quickly made plans to follow up with the proper equipment. A few days later John Gehret along with some daring neighbors returned outfitted with lanterns, ropes, torches, and ladders. What they discovered had astonished them. Resting on a farm in rural Kutztown was a cavern dating back millions of years.
A few weeks later another group of explorers went back to explore more of the cave. While inside they became fixated upon the diamond-like crystals that had adorned the inside walls of this mountain. Flabbergasted by their extraordinary discovery the men quickly had these crystals examined by an expert jeweler. Only to be disappointed that they hadn't discovered diamonds. However discouragement didn't last long, as the men had learned the size and depth of their discovery. The cavern became known as the "Crystal Cave."
As word spread about the cave's discovery, so did the interest in seeing it. Within months the cave had been visited by dozens of unknowing neighbors who were quietly putting the natural formations in quick danger. A local neighbor who had a passion for Native American artifact collecting as well as geology purchased the property from the Merkels and immediately placed wooden planks over the caves opening.
Almost instantaneously after receiving the property Samuel Kohler began plans for a cave tour. Laying wooden stairs with railings, as well as boardwalks along the inside. He then began to give structures within the cave names. Choosing animals that the formations often resembled. Using candles and laterns to illuminate the interior of the cave. Mr. Kohler soon began his tours.
On May 25th 1872 the Grand Illumination of Crystal Cave occurred. Admission was twenty-five cents. From that point on the cave became one of Pennsylvania's first tourist attractions. And has remained relatively unchanged since then...well except the price.