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 the hole to discover a series of 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.
In 2015 the Howe Caverns finally opened the enigmatic dam doors found deep within the cavern, revealing a whole new portion of the cave system, that has been locked away for over a century. In the newly available section of the caverns, amateur spelunkers can find the remnants of the old dam itself, historic pipelines dating back to the Civil War, and a cavern that is said to echo better than anywhere else in the underground empire. However the crown jewel attraction is the titular “Signature Rock,” a flowstone that has hundreds monickers and initials from visitors to the section before it was closed. Some of the signatures date as far back as 1843, and even includes the name of the man who discovered the cave, Lester Howe.
The Signature Rock Tour is a little bit more hairy than the standard cavern walkthrough, causing visitors to get down on their hands and knees to crawl through some sections. There are also no lights, as have been installed elsewhere in the caverns, so hard hats and head lamps are required.
Outside of Albany, the Howe Caverns still host tours which include a boat ride on the underground lake. They offer adventure tours and lantern 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.
Know Before You Go
Cave House Museum of Mining & Geology location and mailing address is different from the cave and is:
The Cave House Museum of Mining & Geology, 139 Blowing Rock Road
PO Box 700, Howes Cave, NY 12092