As many have stated, “if only these walls could talk.” Millions of tourists have visited Indian Echo Caverns since it was officially opened commercially on May 6, 1929. However, the history of the caverns as far as human events are concerned started far before the first Europeans set foot on the North American Continent.
If the walls could talk they would tell us about the first inhabitants, the Native Americans, and how they used the caverns. Based on facts gained from the history of Native Americans, they most likely used the caverns for living quarters and storage. The constant 52 degree temperature provided a warm dwelling place. Many various tribes used, traveled, or migrated, through the area and knew about the caverns. The Swatara Creek outside the entrance allowed many people to find and use it. The first recorded tribe in this area was the Susquehannocks, who were decimated by disease and warfare by 1760. Notable other tribes also used the caverns, and it is stated than many villages were built along the Swatara Creek. Numerous relics showing their existence in this area were found in fields across the creek from the entrance and on the farm upon which the caverns are located.
As early as the 1700’s visitors were recording the existence of a “cave” at this location, described both verbally and on maps made at that time. These early writings were numerous and delivered to England and throughout the colonies. Residents of local communities often visited “the cave,” as it was referred too. Various names were given to it including the Wilson Cave, after the hermit who resided in it from 1802 until 1821, the Hummelstown Cave, and Echo Cave. The commercial name of Indian Echo Cave was chosen by the owners who commercialized it. The name Indian Echo Caverns was changed in the mid 1950’s.
Unfortunately there were no laws to prevent vandalism, and as a result too many early visitors broke off formations as souvenirs starting in the early 1700’s. This disappointingly adds to the history and also verifies the popularity of the cave during those times. Thousands of people explored the cave using whatever light they brought with them. Torches, candles, lamps, and other sources were used to light the total darkness, showing the beauty of the majestic formations. Additionally, many would leave their names behind by either painting on the walls or by carving into the rock. One of the owners, a tour guide during the 1950’s, took many, then older, adults through the caverns, explaining how they, while carrying a light source, crawled over the rocky and muddy terrain inside the caverns in their youth. Some of these folks would show where they painted their name on the wall and others would tell of entering the second entrance. Still others would tell how they would leave the annual Stoverdale Camp Meeting, located downstream about one mile, to visit the cave.
More devout “explorers” found new parts of the cave, such as the “North Canyon,” after which a celebration of its discovery led a party of numerous Hummelstown residents to visit their findings. So if these walls could talk they would have thousands of stories.
Seeing the commercial value of the cave, the farm property was purchased and developed into a business, opening in 1929. Sadly, following the initial success, the depression led to its demise. A new family bought the property in 1942, with successive generations continuing to own it to this day.