Tag Archives: Howe Caverns

Howe Caverns: Rich Nethaway Tour

BillieJo and I attended a special tour of Howe Caverns with Rich Nethaway as the guide. The promotional information is listed below.

There are only two true keepers of the history and stories of Howe Caverns: the cave walls and Rich Nethaway. In 1969, at the age of 16, Rich began his vocation as a tour guide. His career at Howe Caverns has spanned five decades; making him the longest term employee in Howe Caverns’ history! His deep institutional knowledge of our cave’s history is positively unparalleled. On Sunday, November 21, 2021, it is with great pleasure and pride that we present the opportunity for guests to take a trip back in time and to enjoy a special edition presentation of the Traditional Cave Tour. Join Rich, in our Main Lodge, as he talks about some general local history and the evolution of our property over the years. Guests will then descend into the cave to take a full Traditional tour. The journey will wind through limestone corridors, cavernous galleries, under massive boulders, and will include a short boat ride on our underground lake, as you learn about Mother Nature’s handiwork; carved over countless millennia. During your tour, Rich will share little known historical facts, interesting geological information, point out formations not seen on our current traditional tour, and share anecdotes from the cave. After the tour, you are invited to a short Q & A session with Rich in the Café dining room where light refreshments will be served.Do not miss this special and unique opportunity. It is the ultimate historical experience that only Rich can offer.

The cave is 52°F year round. A jacket or sweatshirt is recommended.
-The cave tour consists of a 1.25 mile walk with a 0.25 mile boat ride. There are 139 stairs up & down throughout the cave.
-Must be age 16 or older to attend.
-Program duration will be approximately 3 hours.

Sunday I went on the Rich Nethaway caverns tour. There were 12, including 6 staff. rich talked about all the changes to the buildings and then we toured the cave. Rich segregated formations into primary, secondary and tertiary groups. He identified formations from all 3 levels along with relevant history ( flights, floods, events). I enjoyed being in the cave again. – it was a nice way to spend 3+ hours.

Howe Caverns and the Underground Empire

I just finished reading Underground Empire about Howe Caverns and I have enjoyed it immensely.  I don’t know if the feeling of nostalgia is due to the my recent SCS 50th year high reunion or that I could relate to so many of the people and places described in the book. It has been a splendid read and I wrote a letter to the author. Dana Cudmore, was a year behind me at Schoharie school and worked as a guide at Howe Caverns with brother Robert.  I wrote a letter to Dana about all my memories which Dana labelled as a Cave Country Boyhood..

From the early 1950’s until the mid-1960’s my family owned a dairy farm which abutted Howe Caverns property. Surrounding our farm was land owned by Nethaway, Vannatten and Sagendorf families. AS a pre-teen I drove a team of horses for the Nethaways. I learned to ice skate on Jimmy Vannatten’s pond, My sister Barbara was (and still is) best friends with Hope Sagendorf and my other sister, Jeanne, attended school prom with John Sagendorf.

My dad used to cut hay from Howe Cavern’s land. Spring times when my father would till new fields we would pick rock and joke that moving the really big ones would lead us to The Garden of Eden. In 1958 the Caverns made a promotional film which used some of our family farm and four cows.  The picture shows an actor and camera man setting up along a stone fence line for some farmer wisdom about the discovery of the cave. 

Locally us kids had a  horse posse including Bobby Beavers, Joyce Nethaway, Hopi Sagendorf and occasionally Carolyn Rehberg. When my ponies escaped, we would frequently find them at the Caverns mooching treats and affection from the tourists. One of the reasons I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 18 was due to proximity to Howe Caverns. With no shoulders along the country roads, my parents were certain if I was riding a bike I would get hit by a tourist. So, from age 5 on they entrusted my fate to Nip, my pony. I guess they figured his sense of self-preservation would extend to me as well. David Reynolds was one of my close friends growing up.

My parents played cards with ‘Bud’ Tillison owner of the Howe Cave Luncheonette and Grocery.  I recall it only having 3 small tables. I remember Bud giving me an ice cream while he and my dad visited and as a youngster, I felt it couldn’t get any better.  Carolyn (Rehberg) Schlegel says she could recall that Bud designated a spot to tie a horse while the kids went into the store to buy a treat.

I see Carolyn (Rehberg) Schlegel often playing senior’s volleyball and was telling her of your book.  The Rehberg family was active in Yo-Sco-Haro Riding Club and served as 4-H leaders, The Rehberg farm was located at Lester Howe farm and the suspected Garden of Eden.  Carolyn relayed a story told by her father Albert (Al) that when blasting was done for I-88 one of the blasts sounded a different ‘thump’ associated with settling earth.

When I was 13 my family sold the farm to Lester Hay and built a house across the Schoharie Creek from Terrace Mtn.  Bill Dodge, SCS Biology teacher, sponsored our informal outing club –the Schoharie Pit-Plunging and Cliff-Climbing Club which undertook activities on Terrace Mountain and Partridge Run and canoeing Schoharie Creek and canoe racing on the Susquehanna. 

Lester Hay later married my sister, Jeanne and fathered Mark and Matthew Hay who worked as tour guides at the caverns.  In fact, many of us worked at the cavern.  My sisters, Barbara and Jeanne worked at the snack bar.  My cousin Karen Muller worked there as well.  My sophomore year in school I joined the largest guides class ever assembled at the caverns and was trained by Don Reynolds.

As a junior and senior (SCS Class of 1971) I went caving with Bill Dodge and other friends exploring Balls, Knox, Van Viets, Spider, Benson, and Przysiecki caves.

Somewhere in the late 1970’s my brother Robert, father Clifford and brother-in-law Lester Hay salvaged an engine and winch which was used to clear the sink hole known as Sinks By The Sugar Bush. There were 50 gallon drums, punctured to allow water to drain, which was lowered for men and gear as well as to pull out the tailings as they tried to clean it out.   We were always told they found some of Lester Howe’s items in a grotto near or at the sink.  We believe the engine and winch that were there dated back to late 20’s or early ’30’s as the engine was a ’20s vintage.  It was a 6hp “Novo” with a capstan for rope and drum for cable. 

The book has been a real joy to read. I feel blessed that I was able to grow up in the prosperous hay days of Howe Caverns and the book enabled many pleasant memories for me.