Lost Goldmine Of The Wissahickon

 

In a previous article, I wrote about Johanas Kelpius, the merry monk who lived as a hermit in a cave by the Wissahickon. But there is another set of caves on the Wissahickon that few have heard of, and fewer still have entered. In the steep hills of Wissahickon Park, Gorgas Creek tumbles through a thickly-wooded valley on its way to join Wissahickon Creek. Near the intersection of these two creeks, a 20 foot rock outcrop thrusts itself off the hillside like the prow of a stone ship. At its foot, a dark, low tunnel reaches back twenty feet into the rock. Further downstream, a small hole in the hillside blows cold air, hinting at still larger spaces underground.

Almost nothing about the caves is known for certain. They remain shrouded in legend, purported to be the hiding place of robbers, Indians, and patriots. What we do know is that the caves are man-made, excavated with hand-powered rock drills and black powder by the Roxborough Mining Company in 1763-1764, which means they are among the oldest mines in North America. The company, whose goal was to uncover “ores and minerals,” consisted of just seven men, several of them were German immigrants from Germantown, apparently under the leadership of Barnard Gratz. Today the rock contains nothing of value, so it is puzzling why they would have dug there at all.

Looking out from inside the mine. | Photo: John Vidumsky

Local legend says that the Roxborough miners were looking for gold and were led to dig at this spot by a dowsing rod. This is plausible, but can’t be confirmed. Dowsing is a pseudo-scientific way of finding precious metals underground with a forked stick. We know that the immigrants of Germantown believed strongly in the power of dowsing and would often dig for treasure where the hazel stick pointed. Whatever they were searching for, legend says the miners found nothing and the mines were abandoned by 1764 (Another legend says that during the Revolutionary War large amounts of grain were hidden there from pillaging Hessian mercenaries.)

The caves were rediscovered in 1854 by a young local historian named Horatio Gates Jones. One of the entrances had become silted up, and had to be dug out before Jones could crawl inside. He recounts that this tunnel forks like a “Y” and goes back 30-40 feet. Shortly after, the hole largely filled up again with dirt, as it remains today.

The other tunnel however is still open, and shows evidence of occasional habitation by a modern-day Kelpius. There is no gold to be found, but this man seems to have found riches here of another kind. He has a guestbook for his cave, which reads in part, “Please love this space as God provided, read the Good Book and see that the earth will be renewed. This is Paradise!…Please respect this beautiful home!”

Author’s Note
: special thanks to The Roxborough, Manayunk and Wissahickon Historical Society, who helped with research for this article.

Gorgas Creek, just below the caves. | Photo: John Vidumsky

About the author

John Vidumsky has been exploring abandoned spaces for as long as he can remember. He recently received an MA in history from Temple University, where he studied 20th-century Russian history. Currently, he works for Hidden City as Head of Research and Client Services. In his spare time, John plays Celtic harp, runs a drum circle and does photography.

Send a message!



5 Comments


  1. They were called the Micky Mouse Caves at one time. I dunno why.

    • That’s funny. I’ve also heard them referred to as “The Bat Cave,” “The Old Indian Cave” and “Chicken Rock.” Most often, however, they’re just called “The Caves.”

  2. I can not find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.

  3. I like the article and the photos. Thank you, John. But it bugs me that the city has been referring to the ‘creek’ as Gorgas Creek and, on the signs on the bridge above it, as Gorgas Run. It was Oil Mill Run. Do you know when they changed it? And why?

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
You Can Turn $10,000 Into $20,000 For The Hidden City Daily; Here's 15 Reasons Great Why

You Can Turn $10,000 Into $20,000 For The Hidden City Daily; Here’s 15 Reasons Great Why

December 15, 2017  |  News

With our campaign hitting the home stretch, a generous donor offers to match the next $10,000, if we can raise it by campaign's end on December 31. We need your support to make it happen > more

City Council To Vote On Ridge Avenue Demo Moratorium

City Council To Vote On Ridge Avenue Demo Moratorium

December 13, 2017  |  News

A bill to place a temporary hold on demolition applications for 300+ historic properties along Ridge Avenue goes before City Council tomorrow. Michael Bixler has the details > more

The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

December 11, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

Last June, one of Center City's last classic diners, Midtown II at 11th and Sansom, closed its lunch counter for good. The high-profile property is now under development, although plans for the space remain elusive. The Shadow takes us behind the façade to reveal a lively list of tenants and a colorful history of reuse > more

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly's Paint King And His Irish Lass

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly’s Paint King And His Irish Lass

December 8, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us to Old City where the flames of a secret affair scorched newspaper headlines in the early 1900s > more

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

December 6, 2017  |  Vantage

Academic, activist, and political commentator Marc Lamont Hill carries the tradition of the Black-owned bookstore into the 21st century with Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books. John Henry Scott has the details > more

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

December 4, 2017  |  Vantage

Hidden City's annual fund drive is in full swing on Generosity and we've got a brand new batch of perks celebrating Philadelphia available. Here's a look at this year's killer lineup > more