Crystal Cave was discovered by farmers looking for limestone to increase the fertility of their soil. Locals hoped they were diamonds, but a jeweler concluded they were small sparkling formations of ice, found in the hole William Merkel blasted into a hillside on his father’s farm, when mining for limestone. Though he had not found a diamond mine, it soon became apparent, William had uncovered a large cavity with a multitude of sparkling, diamond-like crystals adorning the walls.
The farmers who knew nothing about caves, sold the property to Samuel Kohler, who pioneered visitor caves in Pennsylvania. He let scientists, who raved about what they saw, explore the cave, before building boardwalks, stairs and railings for safe passage, installing lights and accepting visitors for 25 cents a tour. His unprecedented commitment to Crystal Cave in 1872, created the first show cave to operate in the state, and one of the first visitor attractions in Pennsylvania, still enormously popular with visitors.
Kohler was also a pioneer in advertising. He would leave some of the first trade cards at train stations, describing cave details and glowing testimonials from influential people. Ultimately, this great marketing pioneer began operating a four mile horse drawn carriage from the East Penn Railroad station in Kutztown. It was so popular that the railroad established a depot at Virginville to make the trip shorter. Adding to his attraction, Disney style, Kohler built an Italianate addition to the farmhouse on the property, and opened the Cave Hotel.
Crystal Cave has been painstakingly preserved to appear much as it did when it was discovered nearly 150 years ago. Explore the cave on a guided tour, evening lantern tours, or during any one of the special program offerings. Before or after touring, treat yourself to Pennsylvania Dutch food in the Crystal Cave Café and traditional sweets treats in the Ice Cream Parlor. Make an afternoon of it, enjoying one of the true outdoor treasures of Pennsylvania’s Americana Region and extend your time returning to your childhood to play miniature golf on one of the oldest historic courses in America and pan for gemstones in the sluice.