The Local Explorer: Rosendale’s Widow Jane Mine
Originally Published in The Teller Magazine
Among the weird wonders of the Hudson Valley, the “Widow Jane Mine” in Rosendale stands out. An eerie, abandoned cavern with no current use, this gaping hole in the earth is located off Lawrenceville Road along the Rondout Creek, so Jane’s visitors may have a rough time locating the site — a right turn appears on the winding road without warning, and once parked, a long trail to the mines begins. When I visited Jane, this trail was not particularly well-worn, and the woods surrounding the path were completely silent. The mine caves, previously used in Ulster County’s Limestone boom of the 1850s, are said to go on for miles, contributing to the echoing quiet hush across the landscape.
I visited Widow Jane as night was setting in, so during my visit I was only able to enter the foremost cavern. This sulphuric-smelling cave is fairly deep, and is home to an underground lake — the stalactitic ceiling drips with an odd, yellow water, and each droplet reverberates through the mine like a sound effect from a horror movie — or for the faint of heart, an episode of Scooby Doo.
This mine is open to the public, and maintained free of charge by Ulster’s Snyder Estate, so the cavern has been utilized by all sorts of people (besides cave-explorers) over the years. In the middle of the first cave sits a small wooden stage, which, during my visit, was occupied by two guitarists sitting together, finger-picking intricate songs while occasional pedestrians scrambled in and out of the cavern. Apparently, this behavior is to be expected. Widow Jane is known for hosting truly “underground” concerts: A quick scroll through Youtube Results presents a glimpse into the kinds of diverse groups that play in the amazing acoustic space: Japanese “Taiko” drummers, “Tribal Harmony” groups, artists engaging in “interactive ritual performances”, and on one occasion in 2006, musicians who gathered together for “Psychedelic-Experimental Death Chants”. It seems that the Widow Jane will play host to whichever sector of the public wants to utilize it, and therefore has fostered a sense of community, outside of supernatural intrigue.
While at these limestone mines, I sensed a gap in my knowledge: I’m not from Ulster County, but having no sense of local history still feels wrong to me, especially when seldom-discussed events such as the New York limestone boom were antecedent to the Widow Jane’s awesome existence. At one point in time, Rosendale was the “premier source of natural cement in the United States” (ASTM,) and Rosendale Cement contributed to some of NYC’s most iconic, opulent architectural structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, and “the Empire State Building itself”(widowjane.com). The Widow Jane is an eerie place to visit, but its rich past is a testament to the unknown depths of our world: even a simple hole in the ground can have a whole lot of history.