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Share Your Kelpius Cave Stories


Jacquelin Brough and Del Conner

Recently Del Conner and Jacquelin Brough went to the Wissahickon entering at Rittenhouse Town to search out the site of “the cave of Kelpius” that Del and his childhood friend Bob Moore used to visit in 1960’s. Bob, being from an old Germantown Quaker family learned of and had told Del the story of Kelpius, the Hermit, about Hermits Lane, the Hermitage, the root cellar that was said to have been the cave of Kelpius, and the long gone chamber of perfection.


Del Conner at Collapsed Cave

As young boys the two would take many, many trips to the Wissahickon and their favorite hideaway, the cave above Rittenhouse Town that they thought was the true cave of Kelpius. Not as many people visited the Wissahickon in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as do today, and few people would be encountered in the woods when Bob, Del and their friends explored the valley.


View From Inside Cave Looking Out

Living eight doors from each other on Erringer Place in lower west Germantown, on a snowy day in 1960 or ‘61, with school closed because of the storm, Bob and Del planned their first visit to the carve during a snow storm. With their backpacks loaded with peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, a soup pan, milk, chocolate mix, a spoon, with matches and some newspaper to start a fire, they headed off to their Kelpius cave. Walking down Wissahickon Avenue from Manheim Street, they entered the Wissahckon at Rittenhouse Town then walked up the path at the western end of the town. At the top of the hill if you bear right the path takes you to Blue Bell field off of Walnut Lane. Bob and Del would take the path less taken, the one to the left that started downhill to forbidden Drive. Not far down the path from the top of the hill above Rittenhouse Town, and to the right was the cave. About eight feet deep and maybe about ten feet wide, it was tall enough to stand up in the front part and was big enough for a couple of kids to comfortably sit in.


Remnants of Cave

Bob and Del knew of the Root Cellar that was said to have been the cave of Kelpius, where he would go to seclude himself form his brethren for his meditation. Crossing Blue Stone Bridge over the creek and heading back down stream while climbing the hill, they had explored the area around the Henry Avenue Bridge and the Hermitage. Although their cave was close to the busy Rittenhouse Town over the ridge, Bob and Del thought that their cave which faced southeast, looking toward the Kelpius site on the other side of the Creek just above its hair-pin turn, was a more secluded spot, and the one used by the Hermit.

It took ten year olds Bob and Del almost an hour walking through deep snow to get to the cave that day. With the heavy snow still falling, there was a unique quite and peacefulness at the cave that touched them as had no other visit. It was as though they had stepped out of the city into a wilderness lost in time.
Soon after arriving and feeling the cold, the two immediately set to looking under the snow for kindling and wood to burn.  Having brought matches and newspaper but no kindling, their efforts at starting a small fire in the cave was unsuccessful.   With the last match gone and no fire, they eat their sandwiches, drank the cold milk and set off for home.
Sometime in the past twenty years Fairmount Park is said to have deliberately collapsed the cave above Rittenhouse Town, and it is today a pile of broken rock. However, in exploring the site it is possible to see that there remains a very small entrance into what appears to be a possible underground chamber between layers of rock.Image

Share your Kelpius experiences with us.

Story Recorded by Jacquelin Brough, Edited by Del Conner

Photography by Jacquelin Brough


Dance? Kelpius?

I met recently with Bob Skiba to discuss Kelpius Society programs – and explore the potential for developing an original Kelpius dance performance!

Let me explain — first about Bob.  After moving to Philadelphia in 1998, Bob Skiba established the Mixed Pickles Vintage Dance Company, to research and perform social dance from the Colonial period to the 1950s.  You can learn more about that project by going to his website, at  Bob publishes a blog relating to dance history, which you can find at; his blog devoted to Philadelphia’s gay community is located at  Bob has varied professional experience as dancer, actor, designer, director, and musician within the dance, theater, and early music communities.  Before settling in Philadelphia he was a member of the Ex Machina Baroque Opera Company in Minneapolis, which produced innovative new work.  Bob is president of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides.

The word “Baroque” is significant here.  The Kelpius community was formed during the Baroque era, and their compositions fit snugly into that musical cosmos — keep in mind that much of the music composed during the Baroque was devotional in nature.  (Think Bach.)  And of course, dance has always played a vital role in ritual expression, as it did during the Baroque.  Did members of the Kelpius community dance to their music?  Probably not.  We do know, however, that we at the Kelpius Society want to push the envelope; break new ground with programming that interprets Kelpius in dramatic and compelling ways.  And so we’re interested in exploring how to choreograph his music, to create a performance modality that would communicate that story more effectively – and more memorably.

Since its founding the Kelpius Society has presented a number of well-received programs, culminating in a live performance at West Philadelphia of texts and music composed by Kelpius and members of his group.  These texts are a matter of record, but the musical settings have had to be painstakingly researched.  Fortunately, Lucy Carroll, one of our founding members, was able to create sensitive realizations of the music and restore it to live performance in our time.  But what if we were to go one step further, and marry that music with dance?  We think it’s quite feasible to erect an edifice of dance on the foundation of the Kelpius texts, in a way that would incarnate the music, and set it in motion.

We’ve only just begun to explore this relationship, and are optimistic that there’s a wealth of potential, moving in that direction.  Please check our website regularly for updates on this and other Kelpius Society initiatives.  We’re looking ahead toward exciting new vistas, and we’ll need your participation and support.

Tom Carroll


The Kelpius Society

Request for Research and Information

I met earlier this week with Daniel Richter, executive director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (MCEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania, to provide information about the Kelpius Society and discuss possible research initiatives relating to the 17th century Kelpius community.  Following that meeting, at Dr. Richter’s suggestion I prepared a brief message to be distributed to the MCEAS mailing list.  Here’s a copy of my message.  Please write to us if you have information such as research resources you’d like to share, if you’re currently doing research on a topic relating to Kelpius, or if you know of research already done in this area.

Request for Research Advice and Direction

Johannes Kelpius and a group of followers arrived in Philadelphia in 1694, and settled in what is now Roxborough, within the current boundaries of Fairmount Park.  They were dissenting Lutherans who self-identified as Pietists, and formed one of the earliest millenarian communities in North America; perhaps only the Labadists were earlier.  The Kelpius group established a medicinal herb garden (likely a progenitor of Bartram’s Garden), set up the earliest astronomical observatory, and wrote music that may have been the first composed on this continent by Europeans. 

The Kelpius story is part of the early history of Philadelphia, especially its hidden or esoteric dimension.  Our problem can be stated, what do we reliably know about Kelpius?  We have a grasp of the basic outlines of this history, and we have a generalized knowledge of the settlement area.  We’ve supported preliminary archaeological research at the site, but still lack comprehensive knowledge of what lies beneath the ground.  We’ll seek funding for a full archaeological survey some time soon, which should assist with site development and produce new research questions.

The provisional answer to the question, what do we reliably know about Kelpius, may lie in how we know what we know.  Our information mostly derives from the work of a single individual – Julius Frederick Sacshe –who was active in  Philadelphia around the turn of the 19th century.  Sacshe was an interesting figure who wrote on variety of subjects, but doubts have been raised about his work.

Religious scholar Arthur Versluis points out that the problem with Sachse’s work is that other scholars haven’t been able to examine his sources.  We agree. Sacshe’s book, The German Pietists of Provincial Pennsylvania, remains a standard reference on Kelpius.  But it’s the only comprehensive English language source we have, and so far as we know it hasn’t been critiqued.

We seek to address this lacuna by consulting with scholars of Early America to ask for suggestions and direction.  We want to establish a frame of inquiry that intersects with established scholarly practice and current research issues in Early American studies, in which Kelpius and his group will become visible and investigable.  We welcome all inquiries and suggestions on these matters from the scholarly and academic communities.

Sincere thanks,

Thomas Carroll


The Kelpius Society

Kelpius at the Franklin Inn Club

Last night Al Holm and I made a presentation on the Kelpius community at the Franklin Inn Club in Center City Philadelphia. Al and I are resident members of the Inn; Al is a founding member of the Kelpius Society.  Other Kelpius Society members attending last night’s meeting were Joanne Kellerman, our treasurer, Carol La Belle, corresponding secretary, Nick Bucci (Nick has deep knowledge of the Kelpius site and is available to give tours), and Don Sloan, a member of the Kelpius Society and current president of the Roxborough-Manayunk-Wissahickon Historical Society.

I began with a brief introduction to Kelpius, providing background on the Pietists in Germany and the motivations that lay behind their decision to emigrate from Europe to North America in 1694. I also talked about the activities of the Kelpius Society, which include a publications program (visit our website at to order books), public programs, site development and interpretation, and site archaeology and botany.

Al then showed a series of images which illustrate the history and significance of the Kelpius community, and their legacy. Our presentation, preceded by a buffet dinner, was well-attended and provoked lively discussion and debate.  You can find more information about us at the Kelpius Society website. New programs are being developed; we expect to post an events calendar soon.

The Franklin Inn club was established in 1902 by S. Weir Mitchell, noted author and physician. Edith Wharton was a friend of Weir’s and often dined at the club. Prominent members in past years have included Henry Charles Lea, E. Digby Baltzell, and N.C. Wyeth. Notable current members besides Al Holm include Daniel Hoffman (former poet laureate of the United States), Nathan Sivin, Thom Nickels, and Walton Van Winkle. The Inn was the first private club to admit women to membership, who now play vital roles there. You can learn more about the Franklin Inn Club and its history by going to their website at  The image of the Inn posted below was painted by an unidentified artist.

Thomas Carroll
The Kelpius Society

The Inn

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