TMH Field Trip: Everett Cave

On a freezing cold weekend morning we made the drive up to Mount Anthony in Bennington, Vermont to make a visit to Everett Cave. It was Goblin’s first real walk-in cave.

In the past, Everett cave, which is right along the aptly named “Cave Trail,” would be accessed via a parking lot at Southern Vermont College. However, SVC has now closed permanently, and the property was acquired last month by Southwest Vermont Health Care. Fresh, glaringly adamant “No Trespassing” signs are sprinkled all around the parking area by the field house and former Everett mansion (though SVHC has said they envision ultimately making it a community space, and will keep trails open to the public). Instead, we found the trails can also be accessed from Fox Hill Road, where a sign advised us to park at the adjacent antiques store to access the trailhead, which is straight up the hill to where Fox Hill begins to loop back around.

From there, a very short hike (500-600 feet) up the hill slightly northeast leads to the cave mouth.

Also known as Conklin Cave, this cavern was once reputed in local lore to run as long as 4 miles, to a point in Pownal. In 1934, a party of western Mass spelunkers proved it maxes out at 150 feet at the end of its longest crawl space

When the Brattleboro Reformer found out that a bunch of Massholes had been the one to expose Bennington’s great legendary tunnel… they were not kind…

Goblin was ready to explore further. Our backup team member (aka mommy) waited for us just outside.

At the end of the entry portal, a low narrow passage rounds a corner …With just a brief crouch (no crawling required), it opens into a sizable chamber with plenty of standing room.

Inside the chamber, the air was so much warmer that it was full of steam from the melting ice. In one side of the room, a pitched ceiling of rock rises approximately 20 feet. There is also some natural seating in a nook to the far right of its entrance.

To the left, a murky narrowing passageway extends further into Mt Anthony, for the willing spelunker.

The cave and surrounding property are part of the the former Edward Everett estate, a reputedly haunted property which I have written about more extensively elsewhere (Advocate Weekly 5/25/06 & Fate Magazine, June ’06). Everett is one probable basis for Hugh Crain in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

At the conclusion of our exploring, Goblin rated the expedition as “a really good adventure.” I concur.

Special thanks to expedition team member Ali Reiff

Lost Cave in Stevens Glen?

Did Mark Twain and First Lady Frances Cleveland, among others, visit a popular cave in the Berkshires that has since become lost to time?

That was the contention of Romanzo Stevens, addressing a group of local journalists known as the Pittsfield Dope Club, in 1912.

Romanzo was clear in referring to himself as the owner of “Stevens Glen” and “Stevens Cave,” which by that time had been owned by his family for over 150 years.

As noted on the BNRC trailhead sign one sees upon entering, the glen was a hugely popular site for picnics and dances in the late 19th and early 20th century, where Stevens constructed a dance pavilion, charged admission, and hosted parties up to 900 people in the stunningly scenic area.

“Tradition has it that wolves used this cave as a den,” Stevens is quoted as saying in his 1912 address. “Later the Indians used it as place of concealment when planning attacks… many fine specimens of Indian arrow heads have been found within the cave, and about the glen.” Stevens went on to say that the cave was again employed as a hiding place during the Revolution, and later as home base for a gang of counterfeiters (the complete triumvirate of New England cave legends).

For the Dope Club, Stevens rattled off a list of notables who’d “visited and explored the cave.” Among them were First Lady Frances Cleveland, Senator Roscoe Conkling, diplomat (and Naumkeag owner) Joseph Choate. Mark Twain is also known to have signed the register Romanzo kept to keep track of visitors to the glen.

This 1912 presentation (Berkshire Evening Eagle, 5/24/1912) was a curious find; I’d never heard of a cave -extant or otherwise- at Stevens Glen. Google searches and digging about on some caving sites similarly yielded no references to a Stevens Cave. Most significantly, I could find no mention of it made by Clay Perry, either in his books or a substantial file of Perry writings I inherited some time ago. Perry was the Berkshire cave expert, father of the term “spelunking,” and his writings in the 40s and 50s contain a considerably exhaustive catalogue of local caves- current (at his time), lost caves, even a few mythical caves.

Thankfully, Romanzo’s 1912 lecture is not the solitary reference to a popular cave at Stevens Glen. In 1959, Stanley Moore, chair of the Berkshire Hills Grotto club, led an expedition of the club’s speleologists to Stevens Glen in search of a rumored cave. “Several old-timers in Richmond recalled a pavillion in the glen where dances were held, and others had heard of a cave,” according to a note in the Berkshire Eagle (9/21/1959).

Was the cave an exaggeration, a bit of fiction to help sensationalize Stevens’ popular attraction? We know Romanzo was a keen promoter, savvy enough to leverage the names of celebrity guests for marketing purposes, and not a total stranger to hyperbole where the glen was concerned (“1000 lovers have proposed within the cave and been accepted!” he proclaimed to the Dope Club). On the other hand, why use the word “cave” in such a deliberate and repeated way, when the presence of a cave could be so easily confirmed or disputed by any visitor with the 25 cent cost of admission? Why say the former First Lady and prominent politicians had explored a cave in the glen- to a group of reporters, no less- if that wasn’t the case?

Another possibility is that a cave has simply been lost- covered, collapsed, or otherwise made inaccessible. The dance pavilion collapsed from snow in 1919, and 5 years later, the majestic canopy of chestnut trees for which the glen was also known fell to blight and was removed. Its more than possible that erosion from that forest loss led to sliding rock and soil erasing a cave entry, during a time when the property itself was falling into obscurity (referred to in the Eagle as “a little known spot” by ’36). Perhaps it vanished into the sloping landscape of the Glen years before even Clay Perry had a chance to see it. At least a dozen once-known, confirmed caves in the Berkshires have thus been swallowed, some with sizable tunnels and chambers now closed off from access, except by water and the tiniest creatures.

There is definitely a certain romance to this latter notion, as the mind’s eye wanders over cold wet chamber walls where sight-seers and party-goers likely carved their initials in the rock by lantern light, now sealed off in the dark, potentially forever. Taken back by these verdant and extraordinary hills that sooner or later reclaim all their secrets.