Clay Perry included many things in his books that would only be considered caves by the most generous definition. There were also some entries he referred to as artificial caves. These were man-made stone tunnels and chambers that can be found scattered across New England. Though he had and entire chapter that covered some that he found most interesting, there is one in Goshen, Massachusetts that will only be found in the index as a counterfeiter’s cave.
In late 2015, I had the chance to visit and explore this counterfeiter’s cave with My friends Jim, Michael , Tristen and Zack. I had known of the tunnel for over 25 years and had always wanted to explore it. I found the available descriptions and illustrations to be accurate. The tunnels branching off in two directions did appear odd, but the corbel construction is something I have seen in other colonial tunnels in New England. Their appearance greatly resembles old Roman culverts that can still be found in England. If it weren’t for the hardpan in which they are seated, I might suspect they were to divert or transport water over a property.
Known as the Goshen Mystery, it was originally discovered by a group of hunters in the late 1800s. They came upon it while chasing a rabbit into a nearby burrow. The vertical shaft was hidden by a flagstone covered with sod and shrubbery. Curious as to what was hidden under the flagstone, the hunters dislodged, it revealing what would at first appear to be a dry well. After further investigation of this pit, details concerning their find would lead many to question that assumption.
The shaft is situated near the base of a hill in Goshen, Massachusetts, and the entire structure sits in a clay hardpan, where no one would expect a well. The shaft is 3 ½ feet in diameter and 16 feet deep, with two horizontal tunnels heading in northwest and southeast directions. The northwest tunnel is 3 feet off the floor of the shaft and penetrates 16 feet into the hillside. It is about 2 more feet wide and 2 ½ feet tall. The southeast tunnel is also slightly smaller, slopes downward for about 10 feet and travels 50 plus feet to sand that blocks the passage. Earlier explorers claim that the tunnel continues past the sand, reaching up to 70 feet in length.
Since its discovery, local residents have offered many theories concerning its origin and purpose, such as an escape tunnel from Indian attacks, a piece of the Underground Railroad, and a secret powder magazine. A similar type of tunnel and rooms was discovered at the Byrd homestead in Virginia. East of the Byrd homestead was a small structure with a dry well containing passageways which led under the house and to the river, as an escape from Indians. Though the Goshen shaft was hundreds of feet from the nearest property, a tunnel that long would not be unusual. Fitz-John Winthrop, governor of Connecticut in 1696, had a 300 foot long tunnel from the cellar of his home to the barn as a safeguard against Indian attacks.
One of the more popular theories is that it was a den for thieves or counterfeiters. What might have inspired this was the fact that using dens was common practice amongst these colonial hoodlums. At one time counterfeiters had been caught several miles southwest of the site. Some go further to claim that the tunnels were part of an immense network of tunnels that lead to a chamber near or below the nearby cemetery.
Some of the more fanciful theories are that it was either an abandoned treasure pit or some ancient pre-colonial Celtic ritualistic structure.
Though most of the archeological community has ignored the tunnel, the few that have visited seem to lean toward some nefarious activity. In 2014 Stephen Mrozowski from the Fisk Center for Archeological Research at the University of Massachusetts examined the tunnels. After a brief inspection, he thought it may have been used for counterfeiting or smuggling bootleg liquor. Though his initial impression seems to agree with previous conclusions, a more detailed study would be needed to confirm this. Later in 2014, Mrozowski arranged a formal exploratory excavation above the tunnel. From this, a better understanding developed concerning the process of their construction. The most profound discovery was several artifacts in the fill above the tunnel that was concluded to be from the eighteenth century, well within the time of the incorporation of the town.
Though the there is little reason to doubt it is a colonial artifact, the true purpose of the tunnel will remain unknown. Until someone digs up more clues to this mystery, we can enjoy trying to imagine all the possible uses for this incredible example of dry masonry.
Here is a video of crawling to the collapse in the 70 foot tunnel.
Posted in Archaeological, Cave, Historical, Subterranean by Michael with no comments yet.