Judges Cave

Not To Judge, But That’s Not Really A Cave Per Se
Judges Cave, New Haven

January 13, 2008

cur12b1.jpgOne thing is for certain here in Connecticut: We name things caves that are vastly different from what normal people think of as being caves. Here, as my friend Rob Y said to me just yesterday, “If a rock overhangs a few square feet of ground, it’s called a cave in Connecticut.” Another odd thing about our not-really-caves-caves is that many seem to have a rather incredible story attached to them. I’ve only visited one other thus far (Will Warren’s Den) with a crazy historical footnote, but rest assured that there are many more. (King Phillip’s Cave, Tory Den, Leatherman’s Caves, Indian Council Caves, Wolf Den – to name a few.)

While all those caves and dens protected people from capture, it could easily be argued that Judges Cave high atop West Rock in New Haven is the most important and perhaps had the most impact. Friend of CTMQ Andy and I made a visit during our hike of the Regicides Trail, which travels the length of West Rock State Park. The park itself has a rather interesting story, one which I’ll explore in my trail write up a bit more as there is plenty to focus on with the cave now.

Judges Cave, G.H.Durrie, 1856

“Regicides Trail?” you just said a few seconds ago. Yup… and as all scholars know, a “Regicide” is the murder of a monarch. But there has never been a King (or Queen) in Connecticut. Read on… There is so much online about the rich history of Judges Cave, it would be wasteful for me to just re-do it here. I was about to use an excerpt from The Cold Spring School’s website. Then I started reading that and realized it was written by a 12-year-old and I just couldn’t do it. (Though it’s still a decent read.)

By the way, Cold Spring School? I figured this is probably not the cheapest school in town. (Ah, yes… Tuition: $12,500-$16,500 for Preschool-6th grade.)

cur12a1.jpgSo then I was going to cut and paste from a Yale newspaper story about the cave – but then realized it was written by a 19-year-old who thinks he’s funny.

By the way, Yale University? I figured this is probably not the cheapest school in town (Ah, yes… For the current academic year, undergraduate tuition, room and board total nearly $45,000.)

I dug further… and found a rather cute yet spartan description written by some kid named Jonathan Lee:


“The thing I remember the most about our field trip to Three Judges Cave is Three Judges Cave. We had to walk about a mile and a half before we were there. As soon as the cave was in sight, we all started running to it. Anyway, some people found a tall structure of rock, which had a little place to sit on (I mean there were no cushions on it but you could sit there without falling off). He thought that this was a lookout. The possibility of that to us seemed very possible! The judges, Goffe, Whalley and Dixwell, could have sat upon the rocks and seen at least a mile. What I also found interesting about the place was the judges’ names, Goffe, Whalley, Dixwell. You may remember those names from three streets in New Haven. Before this nobody knew why they are named, now I do, because of Three Judges Cave!”

cur12g.jpgAt this point, I would hope that you’ve clicked on one of the links to learn about the history of the cave. It is a really cool story – Back in the 17th century a bunch of judges ordered King Charles I to death, Oliver Cromwell took over afterwards, he died and then Charles II ascended to the throne. He then issued death warrants for all the living judges who put his father to death. Most fled, some were caught.

Two of them ultimately ended up in New Haven, stayed with the Reverand John Davenport (First pastor of Center Church where the cool Underground Crypt is) and then had to flee to the wilderness to avoid capture from the British. They (Edward Whalley and his son-in-law William Goffe) hid out here, in this cave, to avoid capture. Aided by local anti-royalist Richard Sperry who, with his family, secretly carried food up to the rock to feed the fugitives.

cur12d.jpgThey lived in the rock for a few cold months, being fed by sympathetic local Puritans. Then a catamount (panther) scared them silly so they fled the big cat now too. Pure Hollywood stuff – the third judge was some random judge named John Dixwell joined the original two later and hid out up in Massachusetts somewhere.

I don’t mean to gloss over this story, but really… with all the resources online about this already, is one more really necessary? After all, in the end, to paraphrase from young Jonathan Lee above, “The thing I remember the most about my hike to Three Judges Cave is Three Judges Cave.” Good enough for me. So now when driving in New Haven along Whalley Avenue or Goffe Street (and Hamden’s Dixwell Avenue), you can remember their story.

The huge, split, glacial erratic is believed to have originated from the Hanging Hills in Meriden (CTMQ visit here). It has been memorialized in many artist’s paintings, notably Frederic E. Church and George Henry Durrie. (Example above). Durrie’s 1850′s paintings almost always had West Rock in the background and were in such demand, that Currier & Ives reproduced more than a dozen of his paintings and lithographs in the 1860′s. You can check out his work at the New Haven Colony History Museum. CTMQ sure did.)

(I have no idea who that rock climber guy is, but he’s on our Judges Cave so I thought I’d give him his due.)



Return to the CTMQ Rocks, Caves & Dens page.

Wiki’s “regicide” definition mention the cave!
Judges Cave Cigars
Old fiction book based on the Three Judges’ story!
A link to a 1914 NYT article about Judges Cave – highly recommended
West Rock State Park

13 responses to “Judges Cave”

  1. Chris says:

    Ive always felt that this plethora of rock would be better named Judges Boulders or just Hey Those Rocks over there!

  2. Steve says:

    It bothers me greatly that it’s not “Judge’s Cave.” It was their cave after all! But the real name (or original name) was Three Judges Cave, so I guess that’s why it’s not possessive. Which also bothers me because there were only two judges who actually hid out here, as Dixwell just hung out with them later.

    Not that I’m a grammar nut, but this did bother me as much as the fact that it’s not even a dang cave.

  3. Rebecca Walch says:

    Do you know who, in 1661-1664, owned the land that Three Judges Cave is on?

  4. grizzly mattams says:

    here is a walk through video of judges cave that i did on a hike this past spring:


  5. Margaret Lewis says:

    Richard Sperry owned the land that the cave was on.

  6. Joe Medford says:

    Just a note Three Judges cave was named after Three judges Whalley, Dixwell and Goffe, The rock formation was hit by lighting in 1880 thats why there is a large piece broken away from the rest

  7. Mike says:

    It you want to be a stickler for grammar. If the cave were named the way you wish, it would actually be “Judges’ Cave.”

  8. Peter Parker says:

    I think the actual cave was on the face of the rock seen from the small park near the intersection of Whalley ave and Blake Street. The Judges hid in homes of sympathizers, I believe a fair amount of misinformation made all safer. They could be signaled when to come down, and the British could be observed when sending a patrol from the West Rock. I seem to recall that a Pirate Captain is aid to have lived up there at one time, for much the same reasons.

  9. anthony matthews says:

    does any one know when john dixwell joined the other two whalley and goffe in new haven?

  10. Dick Radis says:

    I remember “Three Judges cigars back in my old NH days (1937-1965).
    Any of Y’all remember those.

  11. Dick Radis says:

    Hi, again -
    I stand corrected – “Judges Cave” cigars – I believe they are still around.

  12. Jessica says:

    The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe: Smuggled through Connecticut. Written by Chris Pagliuco

  13. carl says:

    The guy on the rock looks like Freddie mercury

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