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Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Effort underway to determine if Martinsburg cave still exists


MARTINSBURG — What’s buried in Hough’s Cave?

That’s the question local historical sleuths — including a north country professor and a Western New York cave explorer — would like answered about the cavern. Supposedly it was used in the antebellum era as a stop on the underground railroad for slaves seeking freedom in Canada.

History buffs want to see if the cave beneath Route 26 just south of Martinsburg still exists and whether it contains any 19th century artifacts to lend credence to the legends surrounding it, said Jerry E. Perrin, office manager at the Lewis County Historical Society.

But determining exactly how and where to get into the long-buried cavern has posed problems. Enter caver Benjamin D. Brown, chairman of the Niagara Frontier Grotto, the Western New York chapter of the National Speleological Society.

Mr. Brown, who recently visited the site, said by email that the written history speaks of a cave large enough to hide several people. The underground water flow could support caves.

“However, due to human activities on the surface and the dynamic nature of caves, it is unknown whether any of the underground passages will be accessible or passable by humans,” he said. “We need to investigate further when the water levels are lower and the weather is better.”

Agreements with local landowners also will be required before any significant exploration or work can be done.

“Our grotto is always interested in assisting property owners with assessing a known or suspected cave on their property,” said Mr. Brown, whose group last year got permission from the city of Watertown to explore caves there.

Stephen D. Farina, professor of communication and media at Clarkson University, Potsdam, also was on hand during Mr. Brown’s site visit, using a video camera to document efforts toward the possible cave unearthing.

Mr. Farina’s interest stems from his ongoing research into the life and writings of Martinsburg native Franklin B. Hough, the first chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry who also served as a soldier, doctor and scientist and wrote histories of Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. The New York State Library recently awarded the professor an Anna K. and Mary E. Cunningham Research Residency to assist in his studies.

Hough’s Cave actually was named for Mr. Hough’s father, Horatio G. Hough, a doctor and farmer who purportedly assisted runaway slaves by hiding them in the cave on his property. A historical marker was placed at the site in 1931.

Information about the cave stems primarily from old “recollections and newspaper articles,” many simply rehashings of prior writings, Mr. Perrin said.

The most recent first-hand account came in the 1950s, when four people during a rainstorm purportedly packed into Hough’s Cave — referring to it as a “partially collapsed stream channel” — but left after encountering considerable water and a brittle roof.

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