During the early 1800's Lester Howe, his wife Lucinda, and their three infant children settled in the valley east of Cobleskill, NY. There are several different accounts of the caverns' history, but the most often told (shortened for the touring public) is that Howe found the cave by accident on the 22nd of May, 1842. On many hot summer days he noticed his cows pastured in this same spot, not on his land, but land owned by neighbor and friend, Henry Wetsel. When Howe approached his herd, he began to notice the temperature getting cooler. His dairy herd had gathered near the cave's hidden entrance to feel the cool air coming from below, and Howe had indeed found the mysterious "blowing rock" and gave credit, in particular, to a cow named "Millicent" for helping with the discovery. Howe then entered the cave with his neighbor Henry Wetsel.
Howe purchased the property from Wetsel in February 1843 for $100. The land records use the name "Howe's Cataract Cave" in the description of the transaction. At age 33, Lester Howe opened Howe's Cave as the country's third commercial cave venture.
In 1843, Howe built his first cave house hotel at the natural entrance site. The earliest paid explorations through Howe's Cave were real adventures. Howe charged fifty cents to take early adventurers on a torchlit, 8-10 hour caverns tour. Often to their chagrin and amusement, visitors were provided with clothing suitable for the caverns trip through mud, clay and 42-degree water. They were provided with straw hats, cowhide shoes, ungainly overalls and blouses. The ladies often wore navy blue flannel suits, trimmed with white braid. A box lunch was provided for the halfway point, and many visitors returned to the Cave House for a hearty meal and drink at the conclusion of their tour. Pictured above was our tour guide Ashley.
Today, the guided tour begins as elevators descend into the prehistoric caverns, 160 to 200 feet underground. Visitors the follow the brick walkways along the subterranean river through chambers with stalactites and stalagmites to the departure point for a boat ride on the underground Lake of Venus. The caverns have a constant temperature of 52 degrees Fahrenheit (12 C).
With the exception of a few bats near the natural entrance, moss growing around the electric lights, and bacteria in the underground stream, there is little animal or plant life in Howe Caverns. However, in many caves the food cycle approaches what is known as a closed ecologic system. In a completely closed system, every organism feeds on and is eventually fed upon by still other organisms within the system.
The text materials in this page and the picture above was lifted from the Howe Cavern's website.