On the outskirts of Indian Caverns lies a stone cottage. Quaint and quiet, it watches thousands roll into an abutting parking lot, alight from their cars and then head off in the direction of Aden Wertz’s second home.
Sometimes, especially in this last season, visitors can listen to Wertz as he guides them through the labyrinth of terra firma, located beneath a foothill of Tussey Mountain and Spruce Creek. Wertz, 65, has been giving tours since he was 10, waking up in the little cottage by the lot and heading off to help with the family business.
But with a pending sale, the caverns are set to close at the end of October.
“It’s just a beautiful spot,” Wertz said. “You can’t take away the heritage and the history of what our family did.”
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Carved into miles of subterranean limestone, the caverns have been in Wertz’s family since his grandfather, Harold Aden Wertz Sr., opened them to the public in 1929, four months before the stock market crash of the Great Depression. Wertz lived with his grandfather, or “Hubby” as he was known, and shared the cottage with four other relatives until he was 12.
“When you walk in, you wonder how two people could fit in it,” Wertz said, laughing.
The caverns, for their part, were much bigger. They’ve continued to grow, with erosion and time chiseling away at the well-trod, half-mile path and beyond.
Stalactites shoot downward, some meeting the cave bottom in various formations of cascading rock, while lights of various hues pierce through the crevices. As people walk through, it appears as though they’re entering the jowls of a colorful golem.
“It’s gorgeous,” said Joan Wertz, Aden’s wife. “There are several people on our Facebook page who have left comments like that — ‘oh I used to come as a child.’ ”
The prospective buyers have until May to accrue the necessary funding to complete the sale. Wertz said they plan on preserving the caverns as a bat habitat and tailoring them toward conservation efforts. Wertz, who is also retiring after 32 years in the ministry, is at peace with the decision.
“The cave will be used for good purposes,” he said.
Wertz can trace most of his early life through the property. After living in the stone cottage, he moved into a house his father, nicknamed “Bear,” built and stayed there until he was out of college. In 1972, he and Joan married and moved into a duplex that was then his aunt and uncle’s place.
A new job took the young couple out of the area. But Wertz’s home was indelibly etched into the heritage that Hubby and Bear built during two lifetimes.
“No matter where we’ve lived, we’ve always come back,” Wertz said. “I’m sure I’ve taken a tour through the cave every year of my life since then.”
Though he’s since moved back to the area, Wertz plans to move to Williamsport where his son, Harold Aden Wertz IV, and his wife live. They also have a son, Harold Aden Wertz V.
Owned among four family members, a majority voted to sell the property. But for Wertz, 87 years of family history is hard to erase. He still visits, sometimes to give tours; or to just check things out. His childhood home is still there, too — small, steadfast, ever watching the cars pass by.
For Wertz, time has done the same, but his memories remain etched in the cavern walls.
“Personally,” Wertz said, “my heart is there.”
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy