In Colebrook Conn. it is
rumored that there exists a cave of mammoth proportion. The cave was
alleged to have been discovered in the 1800’s, and rediscovered
around 1926, only to be lost once again. Some say that this
tale was a hoax created by local pranksters. Though the story
reads much like the typical legend, as you dig deeper into its
history you begin to find evidence to support it.
Connecticut is the home of many caves, large and small, most New
Englanders are not aware of. The largest of these are the Twin
Lakes Caves in Salisbury. These caves are impressive in size
and called the Champions of New England caves. Though
previously commercial caves, they are now closed to the public.
While most of Connecticut’s true limestone caves are found on the
western boarder, smaller caves formed by irregularities on the
earth's surface called "faults" can be found in the center
and Eastern half of the state. Many believe there are caves
still lurking beneath the surface of this quiet state just waiting
to be discovered. In the
northwest part of Colebrook there just may be one of these elusive
caves. On the Norfolk town line and about a mile and a half
off the Massachusetts line, is Knapp Hill. Along the side of
the hill is a barren rocky spot that once was called ‘Witches
Retreat’. A cliff
towering 100ft hangs above this pile of boulders and stone. It
is here in 1841 that 3 boys are said to have stumbled upon a large
A full description of its discovery was found in a book called
‘American Adventures volume 1’ printed by Harper Brothers in
1868. According to the book, the boys had stumbled on the cave
while playing around the boulder at Witches Retreat. After
attempting to explore its depth the boys realized that the cave was
far too large and dangerous for them to explore. They returned
home and share their find with family and friends.
The following weekend, several men went out to investigate the cave.
After much work, they widened the entrance enough so that an adult
could now enter. The mouth of the cavern faces the southeast
and the air inside had a strange odor. Though they didn’t
notice any signs of animals, several men were armed with guns as to
be prepared for any unexpected surprises. The interior was
about 83 feet wide with a
smooth gravel floor. The walls seem somewhat smooth and
appeared to widen as they moved deeper into the cave. The
ceiling climbed and descended erratically. At some points it
seemed barely high enough to stand. Several deep pits were
found as they venture deeper into the cave. One of them
appeared to be 9 fathoms deep and another was filled with water.
The main passage of the cave appeared to be straight and uniform in
width. It ran in a North-Northeast direction for about a
quarter mile. On both sides of the cavern they saw other
passages but did not follow them. At one of these passages
they could feel a rush of cool air and the sound of water in the
distance. After reaching the end, they decided to explore
further on another day and exited the cave.
In 1926, in the Nov. 19th edition of the ‘Winsted
Citizen’ a story mentions knowledge of the cave resurfacing when John
G. Shackley of West Brookfield, Mass. comes across the story in ‘American Adventures Volume 1’
mentioning the cave. The book is
filled with many factual stories so one would only assume that
this too must be true. According to the article, several men
lead by entomologist Dolor La Belle, who was very familiar with the
area, searched for and found the cave. It was explored for a
short distance but due to lack of proper equipment postponed any
week later another story concerning the cave appeared in the
‘Winsted Citizen’. It
was a report on the 2nd visit to the cave by Dolor
La Belle, his assistant, Carrington A. Phelps, a novelist, and a
dozen other men. Now much better prepared, 5 of the men
venture into the cave. The cave was damp and dark. One portion
of the cave was tall enough for a man to stand in but most of it was
narrow maze of fallen rocks. It became difficult for the 5 men
to continue. After crawling for about 80-100 feet into the
cave they came to a large rock that blocked the passage.
Though disappointed, they were sure this was the right place.
Having discovered plenty of ice in the cave they concluded that
constant melting and refreezing of ice in the cave since its initial
discovery in 1841 had caused a collapse of a section of the passage.
Some distance beyond the rock,
they could hear running water. This increased their confidence
that this was the cave that the young boys had discovered.
The cave is not
spoken about again until twenty years later, in
the April 1947 edition of the Winsted paper. Not much is
mentioned other than the facts that many people had been searching
for the cave but couldn't seem to find it. The only new info
mention is that the cave is supposed to be situated on the “south east
corner of the prominent hill north of Shantly Road and in the same
vicinity where Colebrook's famed dinosaur tracks can be seen.”
Also the writer claims to have heard that the cave might have been
“Closed up a dozen or so years ago as it was feared that someone
might enter there and fall into a deep pit near the entrance.”
then many people have tried to find the cave with no success.
Some claim to have heard that it was all a hoax but there is no way
to confirm this since those involved are long gone. Having
personally explored many caves created by fallen boulders, I suspect
there may be a mix of fact and fiction involved. I have been
in several caves that consist of narrow passages only large enough
to crawl in leading to chambers with standing room. In one of
these caves I found a running brook in the deepest part. Colebrook
Cave could be the same type of cave. The idea that the cave
went beyond the rock found by the explorers in 1947 might have been
the same assumption originally made in 1841 when the cave was first
explored. The sound of a trickling brook resonating beyond the
rock could have given the illusion of distance though it might have
been only feet away. The size and depth of the cave might have
been exaggerated as the story was circulated by word of mouth.
How could this cave remain hidden after so many people have searched
for it you might ask? Well, just recently I returned to visit
such a cave constructed from boulders I had visited in 1988.
The cave was situated in a small part of a park in Mass. After
over an hour of searching up and down the area I remember finding
the cave I found nothing. I assumed that the cave might have
collapsed or had been closed by the park rangers. Determined
to get an answer, I went to the ranger station and inquired as to
the status of this cave. I was told it was still there and I
was looking in the right area. I had the ranger show me the
location of the cave on the park map, and returned to that spot.
I looked more carefully and soon discover the cave. It seemed
amazing that I could have walked over this same spot many times and
totally missed the cave. But in a confusing jumble of boulders
and stones, every crack and dark space might be the narrow hole
leading to the cave. It was easy to assume at a glance that
any one of them was too small be the cave. It wasn’t until I
was directed to the exact spot that I looked close enough to realize
that a certain crack between the rocks was the entrance. This
could be the same case with the Colebrook Cave. Who knows?
Maybe the cave is just waiting to be rediscovered just as it was
before. One warm summer day in the near future, some local
boys may stumble on the entrance to this mysterious cave while
playing on the boulders at Witch’s Retreat.