Howe Caverns


Useful Information

Location: I-88 Exit 22 to Rte 7 E, 2km to Caverns Rd, 3km to Howes Caverns. Between Central Bridge and Cobleskill.
Open: Cave: Tours available by reservation only.
Open hours are erratic and only available through online calendar.
Closed Thanksgiving, 25-DEC, and 01-JAN.
Cave House Museum: JUL to AUG Sat, Sun 12-16.
[2020]
Fee: Cave: Adults USD 25, Children (5-12) USD 15, Children (0-4) free, Seniors (65+) USD 22.
Groups (15+): available.
Cave House Museum: free.
[2020]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Speleologyriver cave. Silurian and Devonian limestone: Coeymans limestone, Manlius limestone and Rondout waterlime.
Light: electric
Dimension: T=11°C, H=70-75%
Guided tours: D=90min. V=200.000/a[2002]
Photography: allowed, no tripods or selfie sticks
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Dana Cudmore (2002): The Remarkable Howe Caverns Story, Overlook TP; Reissue edition (March 13, 2002), paperback, 166 pages, ISBN: 1585672467.
Address: Howe Caverns, 255 Discovery Drive, Howes Cave, NY 12092, Tel. +1-518-296-8990. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

Known to the Indians as Otsgaragee or Cave of the Great Galleries.
1770s Johnathan Schmul, a peddler, took refuge from a Native American attack in the entrance.
22-MAY-1842 discovered by Lester Howe, drawn to a rock ledge in search of his cows.
FEB-1943 Howe purchased the property from Henry Wetsel for $100.
1843 Howe opened Howe’s Cave to the public and built the first cave house hotel at the natural entrance site.
1845 the Cave House needed an addition to accommodate the growing number of guests.
1847 this first hotel burned down.
27-SEP-1854 as a publicity stunt, Harriet Elgiva Howe wed Hiram Shipman Dewey inside the cave in the Bridal Chamber.
? railroad station boosted the number of visitors.
1872 the second Cave Hotel burned.
1888 cave sold to the Howes Cave Association.
1898 cave closed and mined for cement making!
11-OCT-1927 Howe Caverns, Inc. organized as a closed stock corporation.
27-MAY-1929 show cave opened to the public.
JUN-2005 Great Rotunda reopened to the public after more than 100 years.
2007 cave sold for $3.7 million to Emil Galasso and Charles Wright.
2019 Cave House Museum opened to the public.

Description

The cave was known to the local Native Americans and called Otsgaragee. This name is traditionally translated Cave of the Great Galleries, which would imply that they entered the cave and visited the galleries. There are others who think it means Great Valley Cave and they never entered the cave because of superstitions. The Iroquois Native Americans of the Schoharie Valley fled the area at the end of the American Revolution. There is no reliable knowledge if they entered the cave as no archaeological remains were found inside the cave.

During the 1770s the peddler Johnathan Schmul took refuge from a Native American attack in the entrance of a cave. He told this Rev. John Peter Resig, the local pastor, who wrote it down, but as location and description are missing, its only a guess that he discovered Howe Cavern. There are other caves in the area, for example Secret Cavers, and we have only little more than a legend with a funny name. We think the name Schmul was quite popular with Monty Python.

In the early 1800s the Howe family moved to the area, and they heard legends about cold air coming out of the ground. The official version of the story tells that Lester Howe was looking for his cows on a hot day, 22-MAY-1842. He found them at a place where the air was actually colder, so he discovered the Blowing Rock. He credited a cow named Millicent for helping with the discovery. The place was on land owned by neighbor and friend, Henry Wetsel, and he entered the cave together with his neighbor on the same day. They frequently went to the cave and explored it piece by piece, and finally they built a raft and crossed the Lake of Venus.

In 1943 Howe purchased the property from Henry Wetsel for $100. He did a little development work, built a cave hotel at the entrance, and offered tours for 50 cent. The tours took eight to ten hours and were actually cave trekking tours. He also played violin in the Bronze Room and shot Roman candles into the Great Rotunda. It seems the tours with his personal touch were quite popular.

With the opening of a railway station at nearby Howe Cave, the numer of visitors increased substantially. Howe’s Cave became a leading New York attraction. But in 1872 the second Cave Hotel burned and at the same time the public’s interest in caves waned. To finance a third construction of the hotel he entered into a joint stock agreement with railroad magnate Joseph H. Ramsey. Ramsey was more interesting in mining limestone and producing cement and offered to by Howes interest. Finally in 1888 Howe sold at the age of 59 and retired. The Howes Cave Association managed the cave but the number of visitors steadily decreased, and finally in 1898 the cave was closed to the public.

The cement manufacturing required large amounts of high quality limestone. The cave was actually not of interest, because it is a hole filled with clay and other sediments. So the quarrying happened nearby. Nevertheless between 1910 and 1925 the quarry face reached Howe’s Cave and about 266m of cave passage were destroyed over time. This is about half of the original cave tour.

In 1927 John Mosner of Syracuse and Walter H. Sagendorf of Saranac Lake started the development of the cave as a show cave. Sagendorf's brother John Sagendorf owned the land where the cave entrance is today. And Sagendorf organized the plan of the engineer Mosner to build an elevator, trails and electric light. On 11-OCT-1927 Howe Caverns, Inc. was organized as a closed stock corporation. The following year the development work started. A work force of well over 50 men constructed the elevator shaft, the trails in the cave and the new entrance buildings. The 47.5m deep elevator shaft with two elevators cost about USD 175,000. On 27-MAY-1929 the show cave was opened to the public.

Howe Caverns lies in Coeymans limestone and Manlius limestone. Coeymans limestone can be seen in the upper portion of the cave near the entrance. Coeymans limestone is more difficult to dissolve than the Manlius variety, so the water naturally chooses a lower path through the Manlius layer. As a result, almost perfectly flat ceilings can be seen in parts of the cavern, which are actually the underside of the Coeymans limestone layer. Rondout waterlime is the cream-colored rock that runs along the underground stream.

In 2019 a new museum, which is closely related to the cave, was opened. The Cave House Museum of Mining and Geology is located on the opposite side of the limestone quarry. It is located in the hotel built by Lester Howe for guests coming to visit the cave. The building survived as the office and chemistry lab for the cement plant. The museum was started in 2005 with the repair and restore of the Cave House. It shows the history of Howes Cave, the underground mine, the quarry and Portland cement plant, the current aggregate mining operation. It also has an exhibition on the geology of the area and New York State. The museum is owned and operated by a non-profit educational institution.