From the 1930s through the 1960s the American landscape became dotted with roadside attractions, each offering something special or new to prospective visitors traveling nation’s roadways. Show caves were notorious tourist traps charging sizable entry fees and presenting endless opportunities to buy knick-knacks. Indian Caverns in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania, was no exception.
Pennsylvania is riddled with show caves due to the Swiss cheese nature of the karst topography that lies under much of the central part of the state. Indian Caverns was first opened as a visitor attraction in 1929 by Harold Wertz, a local entrepreneur. It was originally called Franklin Cave, but when evidence of indigenous habitation was discovered, dating back to 8,000 BCE, the promoters changed the name to Indian Caverns. The cave was most likely used by the Susquehannock, Algonkian, and Iroquois tribes until the early 18th century.
Indian Caverns was a perennial stopping place for out-of-towners traveling the back routes through the state, as well as local school kids. Visitors were shown exhibits of artifacts such as spear points and pottery found in the chambers of the caves. Children were further awed with tales of outlaws and hidden gold.
The cave, along with others in the area, was reputedly a hideout of the “Robin Hood of Pennsylvania,” David Lewis, a noted highway robber and counterfeiter with a local reputation of being an “equalizer” of the haves and have-nots. According to local lore, a stash of $10,000 in ill-gotten gold coins is hidden in Indian Caverns or another nearby local cave; to this day the money has not been found. Other unsubstantiated tales claim that caverns were a stop on the underground railroad and the location of clandestine stores of booze during the Whiskey Rebellion in the late 18th century.
The cave has since been converted to a bat habitat run by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and the interior of the cavern is no longer open to the public. However, the old gift shop building and other structures are still present on the hillside just off the highway. The area is now open to anglers looking to take advantage of Spruce Creek’s legendary trout fishing waters.