Little Bits of History

Howe’s That?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 22, 2013
Howe Caverns

Howe Caverns

May 22, 1842: Lester Howe goes to investigate why his cows stand at the bottom of the hill in the hot summer months. Lester owned a farm about 40 miles west of Albany, the capital of New York. Lester’s cows grazed in the same spot during heat waves. Lester went to investigate the area and a strong, cool breeze came from behind a stand of bushes. He dug out the bushes and found an entrance to a cave. He and his neighbor, Henry Wetsel, excavated and explored the find. The entrance was on Henry’s property and Lester bought the land in February 1843 for $100 (≈ $2,200 today).

The cave was opened to visitors in 1843 and as business improved, a hotel was built over the entrance. Howe ran into financial difficulties and sold part of his land and then a limestone quarry purchased the remainder. Since the quarry owned the property with the natural entrance, the Howe Caverns were closed to the public. In 1927, an organization formed to re-open the caverns. They spent two years creating a second entrance. They installed elevators, brick walks, lighting, and handrails. The site re-opened on Memorial Day in 1929.

The caverns reach 156 feet below the surface. The walls are made from two types of limestone (Coeymans and Manilus) from two different periods of Earth’s history, as well as rock called Rondout waterred. The rock layers formed during the Silurian and Devonian periods more than 400 million years ago. There are few fossils, indicating the rocks are older than most fossils. However long ago they started, the caverns are still “under construction.” Water continues to ooze, seep, drip, and flow changing ever so slowly, the cavern’s configuration.

There is little biological life in the caverns. Some mold has grown around the lights and a few bats live near the unused natural entrance. Stalagmites (Speleothems) form in the caverns as carbon dioxide and water combine and dissolve limestone while gravity draws everything down. When the water reaches a cave, the carbon dioxide is released and the calcite re-deposits on the walls, ceilings, and floors. Tours at Howe Caverns are given every day. The tour takes about 80 minutes and includes walking and a boat ride. The tour takes the visitors past the Bridal Altar (almost 600 weddings have been performed there). The caverns remain at a constant 52⁰ F and there is 70-75% humidity at all times, so dress appropriately.

“Howe charged fifty cents to take early adventurers on a torch-lit, 8-10 hour caverns tour.” – Dana Cudmore

“While the precise year is unknown, sometime between 1910-1925, the first charges in the limestone walls of the quarry face blasted into Howe’s Cave. Today, visitors see less than half of the original underground passage.” – Dana Cudmore

“Scientists believe nature began to slowly craft Howe Caverns some six million years ago – long before even the ancient, extinct animal known as the woolly mammoth appeared on Earth. The caverns are unique for more than their age and beauty – they are among a very small number of mineral caves in the world.” – from Howe Caverns website

“Caves may seem eternal, having been around for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. But every cave is sensitive, whether open to the public as a show cave or an undeveloped wild cave.” – from Howe Caverns website

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Limestone is a sedimentary rock made up largely of calcite and aragonite. About 10% of the total volume of sedimentary rock is limestone. It is used for such various purposes at building materials and the whitening ingredient in toothpaste. When metamorphism takes place, recrystallization occurs and marble is formed. Pure white marble comes from very pure (silicate-poor) limestone or dolomite protolith. Marble with swirls and veins shows the impurities in the protolith such as clay, silt, sand, iron oxides, or chert. Green marble is from limestone with a high magnesium content. The word marble comes from the Greek for “crystalline rock” or “shining stone” or perhaps from the verb which means “to flash, sparkle, or gleam”.

Also on this day Now We Can Play Solitaire – In 1990 Windows 3.0 is released.
SS Savannah – In 1819, the SS Savannah set sail for the first transatlantic steamship crossing.
Air Fleet – In 1936 Aer Lingus Teoranta registered as an airline.