A couple of myths compete for how Lester Howe discovered the caves under his farm:
Some say that his cows always pastured in the same part of the field. Howe, an astute farmer, noticed that they always stood in a cool part of the field, where an opening in the ground blew cool air out. Or... one day when he was out on a fox hunt, Howe saw a fox scamper into a hole and noticed the air blowing out of it.
Regardless of what led him to the opening, in May of 1842 Howe crawled into it to discover some enormous underground caves. The caverns are the largest in the Northeast and among other subterranean wonders are filled with huge stalactites and an underground lake.
Even in the mid-1800s, folks were curious, and Howe opened the caverns for visitors. Tours cost 50 cents and lasted eight to ten hours. Without an elevator to bring you down, the trips were a bit more arduous. Lanterns and torches led the way through the dark, dank depths. Howe also built a hotel atop the entrance to the caves, and the cool cave air air-conditioned the building, a refreshing respite in hot summers.
Outside of Albany, the Howe Caverns still host tours which include a boat ride on the underground lake. They offer adventure tours and lanterns tours as well, for the more daring among us.
Situated at an entrance to the limestone quarry is the lesser known but worthwhile Cave House Museum of Mining and Geology. This free museum is close to the location of the original cave opening.