PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–Kutztown is a place that’s grown up gently. Once an unsettled landscape for those looking to plow their own acres–it’s now considered a “college town”.
Evidence of its evolution is still all over town, painting a quaint German-American picture for all who visit.
The bells toll in the clock tower at Kutztown University, an institution almost as old as the community itself, supported by German settlers and farmers since the mid-1720s.
“Kutztown itself was a little hamlet on the creek along the Easton Road, which was the main road that went from Easton to Lancaster to the main inland city in Pennsylvania,” said Brendan Strasser, librarian and archivist.
Some who came to Kutztown were indentured servants, working off their debts before becoming rural farmers. Others were wealthy land owners eager to purchase sprawling estates from the William Penn government.
“Just a little bit north of us here, about ten miles north, is the Kittatinny Ridge which was actually the frontier line. So no one really ventured over that because on the other side of that line were the Native Americans,” said Strasser.
That boundary meant Kutztown was mainly a community used for travel between other places, but ultimately it became a destination of its own. A place where teachers came to learn.
“When you think about the fact that we started right on the heels of the Civil War and we were created as a school to teach teachers, that’s what ‘normal’ schools were. We were the normal school at the time for Berks, Lehigh, and Schuylkill counties,” said Matt Santos, director of university relations at Kutztown University.
The university evolved over the years, always with education as its focus. In 1928 the facility became “Kutztown State Teachers College.” Then in 1960, it became “Kutztown State College” before earning official university status in 1983.
“We’ve gone from a few hundred students in the beginning to as many as 10,700 students in 2010. And right now we have about 8,000 students,” said Santos.
Through all of the growth Kutztown’s charm has stayed intact.
KUTZTOWN FOLK FEST
Goats, horses, chickens, Shoofly pie, birch beer, and of course, handmade ice cream.
It’s all part of the Kutztown Folk Festival, a celebration of Dutch ingenuity and history in rural Pennsylvania.
“So the festival was started in 1950 by three professors from Franklin Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They chose Kutztown because it was the most idyllic town that signified or represented the Pennsylvania Dutch culture,” said Steve Sharadin, executive director of the Kutztown Folk Festival.
Now in its 68th year, the festival features 200 traditional craftsmen working on live demonstrations and six stages of entertainment showcasing the dance and music of the culture.
In 68 years the festival has exploded.
“It was a three day presentation that attracted approximately 25,000 people. It didn’t take long for it to grow into its current format that we have today of nine days, and we attract annually 130,140 people each year,” said Sharadin.
It’s not just the attendees who get excited during festival time.
Patrick Donmoyer is a Dutch history expert and a skilled hex sign painter who returns year after year.
“You’ll find these designs all over the rural landscape of Berks County. And the highest concentration is within 40 miles of Kutztown. So Kutztown, Pennsylvania is actually the epicenter, geographically, of the tradition of decorated barns,” said Donmoyer.
Donmoyer’s beautiful designs can be seen all over the festival and in the end, they’ll help the community keep thriving.
“At the end of the week we’re gonna be auctioning all of the designs that we do, and all of the proceeds are gonna support cultural programming at Kutztown University,” Donmoyer explained.
UNDERGROUND IN KUTZTOWN
In addition to all the things to see and do at the festival there are some cool spots around Kutztown, including one underground attraction.
Roughly 10 miles outside of Kutztown is a giant hole in the ground, but one with a beautiful arrangement of stone and sediment. It’s called Crystal Cave.
“Crystal Cave was discovered on November 12, 1871 by two farmers: John Garrett and William Merkle. They were basically searching for or mining for limestone to use as fertilizer for their fields,” said Doug Miller.
After blasting open the entrance using dynamite, Garrett and Merkle unveiled a whole new world.
One of the first things you run into is “the ice cream cone.”
“This is a stalagmite and on the ceiling is a stalactite. These form by dripstone,” said Miller.
As we continued the trek into the earth, where the temperature tops out in the 50s, the rock creations were numerous. But watch your head.
“This is something called flowstone. Whereas the stalagmites and stalactites form by dripping water, flowstone forms by flowing water. As it flows slowly down the wall,” Miller explained.
The natural growth of flowstone can take up to 500 years for just one inch.
The name Crystal Cave comes from the shiny crystallized salt along the walls. But as you continue on, there are so many amazing formations.