All over New England are stone chambers of all different shapes and sizes. Clay Perry referred to them as artificial caves, and dedicated a chapter to some he speculated were created by Irish monks around 1000 AD.

In East Thompson, Connecticut there is one known as the Hermit Cave. It is a corbelled dome chamber built into a low natural mound. It has a small crawl-in opening two feet high and wide with a three-foot-long passage. The passage slopes slightly to an oval chamber 6 feet, 8 inches high and 7 feet, 6 inches wide. The rear of the chamber to the entrance measures 11 feet, 6 inches long. This small chamber is an amazing work of dry masonry.

Though there are some stone chambers hidden in New England’s forests that still puzzle local archaeologists, many are colonial and post-colonial root cellars. Others were used for a variety of purposes including animal pens, foundations for massive stone chimneys, huts for shelter, and tribal ceremonies.

No one is sure who built the Hermit cave nor why it is called that. With no story to connect it to a hermit, for what was it made?

The area was once part of a local farm, so it might have been constructed by the farmer for some purpose we may never be sure of. Though that sounds like a reasonable conclusion, the fact that the chamber’s crude construction is not typical for colonial construction makes this less likely.

One legend claims it was built by Vikings who were shipwrecked near present-day Newport. The story is that they trekked north northwest and this was one of many chambers they created in New England. Unless there was only one survivor from the shipwreck, this would make a poor shelter for a group of Vikings. The lack of archaeological evidence for a Viking settlement is also a big strike against this proposition.

The most well supported conclusion is that it was a ceremonial sweat lodge for the native people of the area. In 1643 Rhode Island founder Roger Williams wrote, “A Key into the Language of America,” where he defined the Native American word Pésuponck meaning ‘A Hot-house’. He goes on to describe it in detail

“This Hot-house is a kind of little Cell or Cave, six or eight foot over, round, made on the side of a hill (commonly by some Rivulet or Brooke) into this frequently the men enter after they have exceedingly heated it with store of wood, laid upon a heap of stones in the middle. When they have taken out the fire, the stones keep still a great heat:..”

Hermit Cave fits the description perfectly. It is not only the same shape and size, it is also built into the side of a hill, and is close to Stoney Brook to its east.

Though its a close match to Roger William description, I suspect it more likely post colonial in origin. I would be disingenuous to claim to have have the answer the answer to what it really is. Since we know so little about Hermit Cave, and have very few clues on which to base our conclusion, the true purpose of the chamber will remain a mystery.

What do you think the purpose of the stone chamber was?

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Hermit Cave 42.009964, -71.805342   The Hermit Cave

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