Story and photos by D. Anthony Botkin
The chants of the Wyandot have long since been replaced with the giggles of children touring the Olentangy Indian Caverns that were formed millions of years ago by the mighty cutting power of water carving through Columbus white and Delaware blue limestone.
“It’s not just a cave,” said Ashley Dickens, general manager. “It’s the second-largest cave in Ohio, just behind Ohio Caverns.”
The old caverns once used by the Wyandot tribe are a great imaginative, fun and educational family adventure situated in the southern portion of Delaware County, just north of Columbus in central Ohio.
Dickens said that since 1998, the caverns have been owned and operated by her husband, Tim Dickens, who has expanded the cavern experience to an Ohioan frontier adventure.
Dickens said the story of the caverns starts in 1821 with J.M. Adams, a member of a wagon train that was heading west, who had gone in search of his runaway ox. The wagon train had stopped for the night to camp not far from where the caverns are located. When Adams awoke the next morning, he found his ox had broken loose and wandered off some time in the middle of the night.
In Adams’ search, he found the entrance to the caverns and went in to explore. Before leaving, he carved his name and date near the entrance, which can still be seen to this day.
The first public tours of the caverns began July 4, 1935.
The geological wonder is now accessible from within the museum by going down a set of concrete stairs that descends 55 feet to the first level of a maze of passages and rooms occupying three different levels that offer an excursion into ancient Indian lore.
The maze of beautiful winding passages leads to the many spacious underground rooms that were once used by the Wyandot for rituals, ceremonies and council meetings. Other evidence points to the tribe using the caverns for shelter from storms and to hide from their enemies — the Delaware.
Most of the spaces are open enough for an average-sized adult to walk upright through them but sometimes may require a little head-ducking.
Fat Man’s Misery might be a tight squeeze for some that carry a couple of extra pounds around their middle.
“It’s a little hard to get through for some,” she said.
At the third level, Cathedral Hall and Bell Tower rooms take an adventurer of the caverns down to 105 feet below the earth’s surface. Beyond that point there are many are believed to be many unexplored passages and rooms.
The fourth level has been partially explored where an underground river has been found flowing into the Olentangy River, just east of the caverns.
“There are several passages that have not been excavated and opened,” Dickens said.
However, the underground river has formed a lake, but the size of it is unknown, along with the many miles of passages that have never been explored.
“Nobody has been down there in a very, very long time because there was a cave-in,” Dickens said. “But, it’s still cool because there are blind fish and everything down there.”
The cave is a constant 54 degrees year round. Bring a jacket to stay warm and dry.
The museum features artifacts that have been discovered in the caverns.
“This stuff is cool,” Dickens said. “I like this stuff. The oxen leg bone and jaw bone are neat.”
There is also a history displayed of the caverns on wooden arrowheads, and there are wooden cigar Indians at the entrance to greet visitors.
An old cash register from the 1800s was probably once used to collect admission fees from visitors.
Children will find delight in mining for gems with screened sifters, shaking them back and forth in a water flue to reveal gems hidden in the dirt.
There is a petting zoo where kids can pet live animals like goats, sheep, deer and miniature cows.
Visitors can take advantage of the cavern’s miniature golf course that is laid out behind the General Store. Want to wear the kids out so they sleep well through the night, let them try the rock climbing wall or challenge them to a game of checkers on the super-sized checkerboard.
A gift shop offers gems, mining helmets, stuffed animals, Indian lore items and other gifts related to the Ohio frontier.
The Olentangy Indian Caverns
1779 Home Road, Delaware
Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 1 to Oct. 31
Visit olentangyindiancaverns.com for details on types of tours, camps and events.