Cool place on a hot, humid day down under Delaware County


On a sweltering summer day, there is place besides the pool to cool off within a half-hour drive from Columbus.

In 1934, Richard Leitch and a partner re-discovered what is now known as Olentangy Indian Caverns in southern Delaware County, just to the west of U.S. 23.

Carved out of a limestone formation by torrents of water tens of millions of years ago, the caverns provide visitors with a look at the underside of Ohio. The first level stairs descend 55 feet, where the temperature is a constant 54 degrees year-round.

Water drains to the second level occupied by more geological treats and snug passages at a depth of 105 feet. A deeper level no longer accessible has an ancient lake created by a stream flowing to the Olentangy River, but much of this region remains unexplored.

The history of the rocks and discovery of the passageways is told in the museum at ground level, filled with Native American artifacts such as arrowheads and mixed with fossils.

On display are the retrieved bones of an ox that toppled accidentally into the cavern in 1821, which marked the discovery of the underground cave by settlers.

The retrieval of hundreds of artifacts from the winding, spacious caverns showed that Wyandot Indians had built a workshop of some sort, while finding a safe haven from hostile Delaware or Lenni Lenape Indians.

“There’s a band of flint that runs through the natural entrance to the caverns. We think the Native Americans liked the caves because they could pull the flint out of the walls and take it down to make arrowheads,” said Ashley Dickens, who manages Olentangy Indian Caverns with her husband Tim.

Tim Dickens noted that “the water works its way down from the surface through the layers of sand and limestone,” which is why is constantly dripping down some of the rocks.

A 17-year-old stagecoach robber, L. M. Wells, who worked the trail near present-day Route 315, stored his loot in the caverns and carved his name in the rock in 1834.

Masonry and walkways surrounding the natural formations required six months of excavation of tons of mud by a team of men in 1934, prior to the opening of the caverns to the public.

The Crystal Room is actively growing, gathering dripping water that contains minerals, which help the crystals grow. There are stalactites (grow from the ceiling) and stalagmites (extend from the ground), which sometimes meet to form a column.

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