Caves discovered in the early 1800’s in Watertown
are not open to the public today
network of caverns of varying heights and expanses with intricate ramifications
and labyrinthine corridors occupy the thick and expansive deposit of limestone
over which the city of Watertown has been built.
limestone is said to be of the Black River type, but limestone does not cease
with the city boundaries. An
immense sheet of it underlies the townships of Rutland, Watertown, Rodman,
Adams, Ellisburgh, Hounsfield, Henderson, Lyme, Pamelia and Brownville and it
contributes no small measure to the fertility of the soil.
close to a century and a half the caverns have sparked the curiosity and the
exploratory skills of countless amateurs, who have crept, crawled, squeezed
themselves through dank, wet muddy passages, walking upright with their torches
in high Gothic chambers and returned to daylight with new and interesting
observations. These have
contributed vastly to today’s knowledge of these interesting caves.
the late County Judge Crandall F. Phillips, one of the most enthusiastic and
systematic explorers of the local caves, discovered “1809” inscribed on one
of the cavern walls, it had been historically recorded that the first
exploration there was in 1822.
expedition was made into the cave, which opens on the north side of the river
near the old stone hydroelectric plant of the Niagara Mohawk Power Company at
the north end of the Mill Street Bridge. There
a sloping passage debouches into a chamber 20 feet below the surface and from
which avenues, like tentacles of an octopus lead away.
of the small-restricted passages of this cave Judge Phillips in the spring of
1935 saw beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
Approximately 1,500 feet back from the entrance Ernest C. Gould who was
with him on another occasion shortly afterward found a corked bottle in which
was a slip of paper dated June 1, 1911 bearing the names Roy Carter, Charles
Babcock and John W. Bragger. Large
chambers 15 feet high were found by that party, which estimated that they went
as far back as Hillside Avenue.
North Side or Moulton Street cave is said to have a passage or passages, now
blocked by fallen debris, running under the river and connecting with caverns
beneath Public Square, terminating in the southeasterly side of it.
north side of the river in the East Moulton street area below the Black-Clawson
plant is a cave from five to nine feet high and six to nine feet wide for a
distance of 200 feet. At 215 feet the passage is partially blocked by a large
rock fallen from the roof, but it is possible to pass the obstruction and go
another 110 feet before the cave ends.
south bank of that section of the present Newell street which used to be River
street and located between Mill and Court streets is the long used “Beer“ or
“Ice” cave where a local beer company stored beer for many years, but which
is now sealed off against entrance. In
this cave the ice never melted until September and in mid-winter it began to
will recall the caves on the south side of the river at Glen Park, where the
late Lincoln G. DeCant and associates operated a sort of Coney Island.
The old Watertown Street Car Company on the north side of the river
transporting people to and from the bridge, which then crossed the river to this
resort. There they found Ferris
Wheels, Merry-Go-Rounds, soft drink stands, midway performances and a tour of
the caves to entertain them.
Dexter and Limerick are other interesting caverns and all have excited attention
of the venturesome through the decades. During
the second World War these Moulton street, Public Square caves, the latter of
which are said to run under the New York Central passenger tracks and station,
were considered for bomb shelters, but that idea was soon discarded as
impractical by the city government.
years earlier the local chamber of commerce had even considered the idea of
opening them up to the public with a view of attracting people to the city.
there is a bit of fantastic legend of 132 years ago which brings out that
Watertown’s caverns were then known far beyond the confines of Jefferson
County. It is in “The Travels and
Adventures of Monsieur Violet in California, Sonor and Western Texas” by the
noted British naval officer, traveler and author, Captain Marrat, a travel work
thinly veiled by fiction published in 1842.
Captain Marrat recalls the alleged hoax perpetrated in the fall of 1826 by
21-year old Joseph Smith who, some four years later was to discover the Book of
Mormon near Palmyra, N.Y, the Bible of the Mormons or Latter Day Saints.
that time, according to Monsieur Violet, the narrator, Joseph Smith with no
money in his pockets but much matrimony in his head was in Philadelphia, Pa, and
in love with a girl at Harmony, Pa. But
the father of the girl had no desire for him as a son-in-law.
So he inveigled a man named Lawrence in Philadelphia with a tale that on
the banks of the Susquehanna river there was a very rich mine of silver and that
if Lawrence would drive him to Harmony and recommend him to the girl’s father
he might have half the profits of the silver mine.
course such did not exist, but Joe got to Harmony, was driven back a sadder but
marrying the girl Joe then wanted to get to his home at Manchester near Palmyra
and, with a tale that in the caverns of Watertown, N.Y. he had seen a bar of
gold as thick as a man’s leg and three feet long, but too heavy for him to
lift alone, he induced a Pennsylvania Dutchman to take him from Harmony to
Manchester. The Dutchman also went
back sadder but wiser.
11 October 2001