Howe Caverns is a cave in Howes Cave, Schoharie County, New York. Geologists believe that the formation of the cave, which lies 156 feet (48 m) below ground, began several million years ago. Composed mainly of limestone deposited hundreds of millions of years ago when the Atlantic Ocean stretched far inland, the cave contains a lake called the Lake of Venus, as well as many speleothems.
Howe Caverns takes its name from a farmer named Lester Howe who discovered it on May 22, 1842. Noticing that his cows frequently gathered near some bushes at the bottom of a hill on hot summer days, Howe decided to investigate. Behind the bushes he found a hole with a strong, cool breeze emanating from it. Howe proceeded to dig out and explore the cave with his friend and neighbor, Henry Wetsel, on whose land the cave entrance was located. Even to this day, the cave is at a constant 52 degree Fahrenheit, irrespective of the outside weather.
Howe opened the cave to eight-hour public tours in 1843, and, as business grew, a hotel was built over the entrance. When Howe encountered financial difficulties, he sold off parts of his property until a limestone quarry bought the remainder. The quarry's Purchase included the hillside which opened to the cave's natural entrance. The cave was then closed to the public until an organization was formed in 1927 to reopen it. The organization spent the next two years undertaking development work to create another route into the cave. After completion of the work - including elevators, brick walkways, lighting and handrails - the cave was reopened to visitors on Memorial Day 1929. The site includes a hotel and a restaurant.
The tour now lasts about 80 minutes and shows the majority of the cave. Visitors begin at the elevators and continue to the end of the Lake of Venus, which marks the end of Howe Caverns' property. Beyond this point lie about 2,100 feet (640 m) of unconditioned and destroyed caverns which lead to the quarry and the natural entrance. After a boat ride, visitors turn around and walk back the way they came, with two additional stops.
Cavern officials have detailed plans to open up the natural entrance of the cave to public tours in the future. Until recently, the natural entrance was not owned by Howe caverns but now it owns the entire cave. Plans are being put in place to continue the boat ride and have the tour exit out of the natural cave entrance.
In addition, there is also a two hour "Adventure" tour that simulates natural cave exploration with the assistance of a guide in a section of the cave that had not previously been open to the public. There is no artificial lighting on this part of the cavern. Visitors are equipped with a suit appropriate for the muddy and cold journey. This tour usually ends at the "lake of mystery" as visitors would have to crawl through a passage filled with water inches away from the ceiling. The store at Howe caverns sells 'cave aged' cheese that is stored in a locked room by the elevators. Weddings are also performed deep in the cave, on top of a limestone formation that resembles a heart shape.
Cave House Museum of Mining & Geology
The Cave House Museum of Mining & Geology is located next to the caverns in a former hotel. The museum features exhibits relating to the cave's geology and formation, rock and mineral specimens, the history of the cave's discovery and tourism, wildlife found in the cave, and the area's cement industry.