Geographers Explore Amish-Owned Show Cave Abandoned for 62 Years

Posted on 3/29/2018 4:05:45 PM

IUP students enrolled in Kevin Patrick’s Geography of Pennsylvania class got a rare opportunity to explore an Amish-owned show cave that has been closed for 62 years. Students applied landscape interpretation lessons learned from Patrick’s book, Pennsylvania Caves and Other Rocky Roadside Wonders, to the karst environments of Central Pennsylvania.

Kevin Patrick, students, and the Alexander caverns Students were learning to identify the landscape characteristics of Pennsylvania’s limestone valleys as compared to its shale valleys, and intervening hard rock ridges as a way of associating cultural landscapes with underlying geomorphology. Along the way, the class met up with National Speleological Society member Jennifer Smith, who had the keys to Alexander Caverns.

Located in Mifflin County’s Kishacoquillas Valley, Alexander Caverns was Pennsylvania’s other see-it-by-boat show cave that competed with nearby Penn’s Cave. Several caves scattered throughout Pennsylvania’s limestone valleys were commercialized in the 1920–30s after paved roads and reliable automobiles opened up the back country to tourism. Alexander opened in 1929, only to be shut down seven years later by the prolonged effect the Great Depression had on auto tourism. The show cave opened again in 1940, but in 1954 the land above the cave was sold to an Amish farm family who had no interest in running a tourist attraction. Their descendants continue to farm the property above the abandoned show cave, which is still altered with the stairs, rails, pathways, and a dam built to direct tourists through this subterranean wonderland.

Students piloted boats provided by the NSS on the underground river that flows through the cave, which rises downstream as Honey Creek. The exploration provided first-hand experience to geological processes important to understanding geomorphology, while also highlighting how that geology was reinterpreted as tourist attraction.

Department of Geography and Regional Planning