HARVARD -- Older members of Harvard might remember playing in it as a child. Younger residents might have filmed "Beowulf" projects in it for school.
The underground chamber off Partridge Hill Road is a not-so-hidden gem of Harvard, although it is rather well concealed in the woods belonging to Susan Reedich and her husband.
When the two moved to Harvard 19 years ago with their children, the woods were covered with poison ivy and the cave was unreachable.
"I don't think anybody had been in the cave for a long time because it was pretty much buried with poison ivy," she said, leading the way through her woods to the cave.
Now, she is trying to find a way to preserve the chamber, believed to be a hiding place for slaves in the Underground Railroad.
People around town have told her they used to play in the stone cave, the heart of which can only be accessed after crawling through a small, dark corridor. Those who can squeeze through the extremely narrow corridor find themselves in a pitch black room just tall enough to stand in. Spiders make their webs while large cocoons hang from the ceiling, where large drops of water condense.
The cave used to feature an even longer corridor that Reedich said collapsed when a university group excavated the area in the 1930s. When researchers from the New England Antiquities Research Association came to Reedich's house in 2006, they found that the original entrance lined up with the solstice.
Yet the cave's origins and purpose still seem to be unclear.
A Harvard Post article from 1977 investigated the possibility that the cave might be a remnant of Norsemen who came to America long before Christopher Columbus.
But some people believe it was built by the Native Americans and used for ceremonial purposes, Reedich said.
The assumption would fit well with Reedich's property, which is riddled with Native American treasures.
Reedich said that when NEARA came to study the cave, they found a row of white quartz stones that also line up with the solstice. Near the cave's original entrance is a single, upright rock -- what Reedich said is called a "spirit door." Across her driveway is a rather large rock split in two, which could also be a sign of Native American ceremonial work.
Reedich's property today is near the old Sawyer home -- a family documented as participants in the Underground Railroad, Reedich said. Although Reedich said the chamber wasn't built to hide slaves, she believes it was used to hide them.
But after centuries of standing in its place, the left side of the entry wall is slowly caving in. Reedich pointed out a tree that has pushed the wall in with its roots.
"My concern is it's going to eventually fall," she said.
Reedich said she would like to apply for money from the Community Preservation Fund to fix it, but would first seek sponsorship from the Harvard Historical Society.
"I want it done professionally by people that restore historical things," she said.
But, she added, she does not want the chamber to become federal or town property if it is restored.
"I don't want it taken away if somebody comes and funds the repair," she said. "I'd like it to remain private property. So it may not ever happen because of that."
Reedich said the chamber still attracts uninvited visitors every now and then. After NEARA wrote about it, she said, everybody tried to come and find it.
"But they don't necessarily know where it is, so they come here and they're wandering around until they spot it," she said. "If you know right where to look you can see it, but otherwise you wander for a while."
"I don't mind people at all checking it out," she added. "I just want them to ask."
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