It’s that time of year when spelunkers will soon begin exploring, and thanks to W. Robert Bentley and his daughter, Randi, the cave and about 5 ½ acres were donated to the Northeastern Cave Conservancy in 2009. The mission of the group is the conservation, study, and management of caves. (Actually there are two caves on the property; the other is much smaller.) The property is now known as Bentleys Cavern Preserve. There is a parking area and an informational kiosk showing a map and trail access. The Bentley Cave is a marble cave, unlike caves in Schoharie and Albany counties, which are limestone according to NCC President Bob Addis.
The cave has been owned by the Bentley family since 1769, when Col. Caleb Bentley, a Revolutionary War captain, settled on the property,
The cave has been the subject of several newspaper and magazine articles and has been mentioned in many books about the area. Some of the stories may well be legends that have passed from one generation to the next.
The cave, reportedly the largest in Rensselaer County, is well concealed. One can pass by the entrance and not see it.
Col. Bentley learned of it when a burglary was discovered. It seems that the Taylor textile company in Berlin had several thousands of dollars worth of valuable cloth stolen. The burglary remained a mystery for many months until the cave opening was discovered along with evidence that the burglars had used it as a hideout. (Anon. 1935) The incident led to the popularity of the cave, especially by local residents.
Another claim is that captured Hessian soldiers escaped from their guards and hid in the cave.
Sometime between 1845-1855, Melancton Bentley leased the cave to some men from Troy claiming they wanted to get clay that was to be used to make paint. It was actually being used as a notorious gambling den! The men would come on Sundays and sometimes stay to the middle of the week swapping small fortunes in cards. The locals said these gamesters would remain in the cave all that time having brought food and drink with them. It was a long time before Melancton became suspicious of the men because of the actions of “Big Bill” (a Negro the gamblers hired to stand guard at the mouth of the cave, watching for the authorities or angry wives.) Well, as the tale goes, Big Bill became so proud of his position that he bragged about it, and one morning as the gamblers crawled out of the cave, and the sheriff met them with his posse and the gaming was broken up. (Perry 1946) In 1956 Perry, again writing about the legend, says the gamblers built a cabin near the cave entrance for the black guard, now called Pete. After the arrests, paint-clay mining took place with Pete as miner and perhaps salesman as well. The cabin was later burned and the ruins are gone.
There is some suggestion made in the 1950’s that Big Bill or Pete may have hidden fleeing Negroes in the cave as part of the Underground Railroad, but that has not been verified.
Newspaper reports also suggested that it was considered as a bomb shelter during World War II.
(By Mildred Livingston Streeter)
There is an ancient cave upon yonder hill,
Its age quite unknown to man.
Perhaps it sheltered Indian tribes
Who passed upon the land.
It may have felt the wagon jolt,
As settlers came this way;
Or felt the stroke of a mighty axe,
As they worked hard by day.
It was a hideout for gamblers,
Rough they came;
Ending up there in the cave,
Fighting at their game.
Have reached its depths or more,
To see the big room,
Or just to go explore.
For many times,
Have heard one say,
They could hear a wagon as they followed
Along the tunnel’s dark way.
Once a man being tired of life,
Hung himself, they say,
Up there by the cave,
They searched for him all day.
Mr. Siring, his name, they said;
Poor man, they found him dead.
It has sheltered many
From storms along they way,
And given cooling shade,
On the hottest summer day.