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Ohio Road Trip – Ohio Caverns and Piatt Castles.

November 3, 2012

The Ohio Caverns

Piatt Castles

A couple weeks ago a friend and I went to 2 places of interest in Ohio.  As you can probably guess, I took quite a few pictures, and here are some of them!

We drove northwest for a while, including spending some time on rural backroads.

Our GPS navigation system alarmed us when it appeared ready to send us to East Liberty instead of West Liberty Ohio (our true destination).  Keep an eye on that thing!

In a roadside field, three Crows watched a Turkey Vulture eating something.  I bet they don’t often run into something bigger and blacker than they are!

I kept spotting Horned Larks in agricultural fields, and I’m incapable of not taking a picture of something, so here we are.

The scenery was pleasant.

We arrived at our first destination- the Ohio Caverns in Champaign County.  Ohio isn’t the first place you think of when caves are the topic of conversation, but you’d be surprised.

I’ll let the sign tell you the basics 🙂

The facility is a 35-acre park.  For tree enthusiasts, there is a self-guided tour of 35 different types of trees planted here- very cool!

There was a nice gift shop on site.  As a matter of fact, the old entrance to the caverns was accessed through stairs in the shop, something I remember when I came here as a teenager quite a while ago.

The new entrance to the mile-long Natural Wonders Tour in the caverns.

Tours of the caverns have been happening since its discovery in 1897.

Our tour guide just outside of the entrance tells us what to expect and what not to do…for good reason.  In the early days, visitors broke off crystal formations and scrawled graffiti in the caverns (which can be seen on the Historical Tour).

The caverns altogether have 2 miles of known passages, ranging from 30 to 103 feet below the ground.  The path is narrow, single-file is the order of the day for most of the way, and it has mostly been smoothed flat with poured concrete to make a safer walkway.  Electric lighting has been added along the pathway.  The temperature is a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, and the air is at 90% humidity.  Water drips into the limestone caverns as it has done for perhaps the last 400 million years.  As a matter of fact, an underground river used to run through these caverns- in the early 20th century large quantities of mud which used to be the bottom of this river was shoveled out to permit further exploration.  What happened to the river?  It sunk further down into the porous limestone rock, deeper into the water table.

Around 50 bats (probably Little Brown Bats) roost in the caverns during the day; they get in through small crevices and the rusting exit door.  A couple of them were spotted deep in little nooks and crannies on our tour, though I couldn’t get a photo, unfortunately.  One felt the weight of all of the earth above one’s head- not good if you’re claustrophobic.

Our tour guide briefly turned off the lights to show us how utterly and naturally dark the caverns are.  Yes, this is a photo I took of the dark.  It was amazing.

The occasional railing kept tourists from tumbling into an abyss 🙂

There are  multiple prominent features in the caverns.  Soda Straws are hollow mineral tubes formed by dripping water.  If the water flow is blocked in them, stalactites can form.  These are much more prominent and spectacular, and are largely composed of calcium carbonate.  Stalagmites can form under stalactites on cave floors.  These formations take a long time to form as water slowly drips down from the surface.

The narrow soda straw in the center of the above image is known as The Old Town Pump due to its interesting shape.

A passageway known as the Crystal Sea still has a shallow amount of water.

The remarkable formation in the center of the above image is an example of an helictite, an exotic and mysterious formation.  Helictites are soda straws that stray off at gravity-defying angles, growing outward or straight up.  There is debate to this very day what makes them do this, but possible mechanisms are wind, capillary forces and crystal splitting.  They are extremely delicate.

There is a large amount of color in the caverns, caused by the presence of various minerals, including iron oxide (rust).  Yes, you can see rust growing in the caverns.

There were some chambers that we passed through, including Fantasyland (named after a large number of formations in evidence) and the Big Room (a half acre in size).

The ceiling wasn’t quite as low here.

Imagine being a young farm boy with a lantern climbing down into the depths (with no smoothed concrete floor) and glimpsing such wonders.

The largest remaining stalactite in the caverns is the Crystal King, pictured above.  Nearly 5 feet long and weighing an estimated 400 pounds, it has grown drip by drip (a drop of water every 7 to 8 minutes) over an estimated 250,000 years.

A last look into the chamber before ascending a flight of 60 steps to exit the caverns.  What an amazing place!

On the road again!

Next stop- Piatt Castles in Logan County.  These two fascinating mansions were built by two brothers, Abram and Donn Piatt, after the Civil War.  They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  This year is the 100th consecutive year that public tours have been given of these unique structures.  Built in the popular Gothic Style of the day, these habitations were called ‘castles’ to probably boost paid tourist visits 🙂  Speaking of tourists…it wasn’t long after they were built that people would come to look at them and knock on the doors, expressing the desire to look inside.  Descendants of the original builders went with the flow and charged admission.  It’s been this way for most of the years since.

The land was bought by the Piatt family in 1828, and they built a log cabin here and farmed the land.  The Piatts were descendants of French Huguenots who fled persecution to the New World.  Jacob Piatt fought in the Revolutionary War and was given a land grant in Kentucky where the family lived until a new generation moved to Ohio.  Benjamin did well farming, and wanted the best for his sons, Abram and Donn.  Abram Piatt carried on with his father’s farming career and became a Civil War general and ultimately a politician; Donn Piatt became a journalist, Abolitionist and diplomat who notably annoyed President Abraham Lincoln by being overzealous in his duties.  He had a natural contrary streak in him; he loved to argue.

At the entrance to one of the castles was a fascinating machine.  For the price of 2 quarters, you could place a penny in the machine and you would receive it back, pressed and stretched and imprinted with the name of the location you were visiting.  I’d never seen the likes of it before.  I just realized I don’t have a photo of my penny!  But it’s really cool-looking.  I read the fine print on the instructions, which informed me that the defacing of legal tender was not a crime if done without malicious intent.  I still marvel at this!

At both castles we were given introductory orientations by guides, who were quite knowledgeable about the buildings and the family who owns them.  The current owner is an elderly female direct descendant of the builders.  After the orientation, we took a self-guided tour through the houses, and read the many signs giving us a wealth of information about the lives and times of the castle’s inhabitants.

Here’s a portrait of Abram Piatt, builder of the first castle.  He was a staunch traditionalist, a farmer who became a Union general in the Civil War.

Abram’s library, with its unique furniture, which was done in the natural style in vogue in post-Civil War America.  The rest of the rooms were just as interesting.

The craftsmanship was evident and unique.  I particularly liked Donn’s front door.

Life was quite different in the pre-Internet age 😉

Each castle had a small Catholic chapel.  Despite the family’s Huguenot background, the original builders were devout Catholics.

The servants quarters weren’t as fancy, I have to admit!

There were many display cases with objects and artifacts.  Some of the equipment and uniforms of Piatt family members who fought in the nation’s wars from the Revolution up to World War II were on display.

Archives were kept at one of the castles.

Not all of the items were from the 19th century- generations of children grew up here.  Imagine living in a castle as a kid!

Having concluded the tour, we went to eat in nearby Bellefontaine.  There was some interesting architecture there.

We returned home through colorful autumn scenery.  A fun and worthwhile trip!

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2012 7:48 am

    What a great way to spend the day! I’d love to see those caverns.

    • November 4, 2012 8:07 am

      These two locations make a great day trip since they’re both fairly close to each other out in the country!

  2. November 4, 2012 10:26 am

    What a fun trip. Your caverns remind me of our “Cave of the Mounds”. Very cool!

  3. November 4, 2012 11:21 am

    OMG, such an tremendous amount of beauty on a day trip! Fantastic!

  4. November 4, 2012 11:23 am

    What a busy day.

  5. November 4, 2012 3:23 pm

    You got some great shots of the cavern interiors!

  6. November 4, 2012 5:07 pm

    I wasn’t aware of caverns in Ohio. Quite a sight to see inside. Love the landscape shot at Rt. 245. Nice woodwork inside the castle. Great photo of the dark! lol

    • November 4, 2012 6:00 pm

      I had to include that dark shot Patti, it was the darkest dark I’ve seen! Ohio has a lot of farm country and you can see that in the 245 shot, there were a decent amount of cattle too. I enjoy the countryside a great deal.

  7. November 5, 2012 7:18 am

    We’ve been to Howe Caverns in New York and Luray Caverns in Virginia, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered helictites before – what mysterious formations! Your pictures are amazing and I’ve now added Ohio Caverns to my list of things to see and do some day.

    There are a lot of those pressed penny machines at attractions here on the east coast – my husband’s young cousin collects them. 🙂 The castle tours look very interesting – you packed a lot into one day and it sounds like you had a great trip!

    • November 5, 2012 7:56 am

      I’d never seen a pressed penny machine before, Barbara, it was really offbeat and interesting! My collection stands at one right now, I better get to work! 😉

  8. November 5, 2012 8:21 am

    Hi. I love both caves and castles. They seem to belong together… perhaps a good subject for a mystery story! The formations in the caves are so interesting. We toured Jewel Cave in the west and the memory stays with me. Jane

    • November 5, 2012 9:50 am

      Both caves and castles are very extraordinary for most of us, Jane- it is a good combination!

  9. November 5, 2012 5:17 pm

    What a great and informative post this is, Tracy. Beautifully done, and I love your photos of the cave.

  10. November 6, 2012 9:22 am

    Nice shots inside the castle!

  11. November 7, 2012 11:05 pm

    The cavern shots are so intriguing! Beautiful!

  12. November 8, 2012 10:25 am

    I wish there were a “Love” button to click! Thanks so much for taking me with you on this great adventure! This is something I can never do and only get to experience through photographs. HUGS! 🙂

  13. Tom Lintz permalink
    October 20, 2013 8:33 pm

    Yes Piatt castle is where I went about 10yrs ago. I took a photo of an upstairs bedroom where I noticed something odd when I got the pictures back. I saw what appeared to be a vortex, a portal that allows spirits to come and go at will, and pictures of what looked to be “orbs”,( circular balls ) or spirit energy. Then as I noticed after checking out the site online and pics of the place, you can see for urself these “orbs”. Why isn’t there any mention of this?? Please reply. Thank you.

    • October 21, 2013 9:23 pm

      That’s wild, Tom! Certainly the castles are layered with history- I didn’t notice anything unnatural, but who knows…it’s worth another trip!

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