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 torch-lit, 8-10 hour caverns tour. Torches, flambeaus (parade torches), or whale oil lanterns were the most common means of light. (The latter two are on display at the Caverns’ museum.)
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. Howe, as tour guide, provided entertainment for his guests.
By 1845, the Howe family Cave House needed an addition to accommodate the growing number of guests. This first hotel burned in 1847. When building the replacement, Howe located the northern wing of the new spacious hotel directly above the caverns’ entrance. Visitors entered the cave through a stairway in the basement, and the cool air from the cave circulated through the hotel. This provided guests with an early form of natural air conditioning. Meals were provided in the dining room, and at night the guests were entertained by Howe or one of his daughters at the family piano.
On September 27, 1854 as a publicity stunt, Harriet Elgiva Howe wed Hiram Shipman Dewey in a natural loft called the Bridal Chamber, just within the caverns’ entrance.
Please note: historical excerpts taken from The Remarkable Howe Caverns Story by Dana Cudmore, The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY, Copyright 1990.