The Cave Inn Coffee House

January 2024
Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian

One of the most significant and exciting things the New Paltz Methodist church did during the 1960s was to open a youth-oriented coffee shop called The Cave Inn.  It was located on the Church’s property at 143 Main Street, adjacent to the bus station. The Cave Inn, managed by the Student Christian Center, provided a place other than the local bars for young people to socialize on Saturday nights.

Speaking with enthusiasm, The Reverend Roy A. Hassell reported on February 5, 1967: “Probably the most exciting thing this year has been the opening of the Cave Inn coffee house. … …thus far the Cave Inn has been an astounding success. Upwards of 60 students a night have used the Cave Inn.”. William A. Greenlaw, the Campus Minister, added: “The Cave Inn has the atmosphere and entertainment students respond to. Folk songs which raise the basic issues of the meaning and purpose of life are very prevalent…” . (Report of the Campus Minister, Report of the New Paltz Methodist Parish Fourth Quarterly Conference, February 5, 1967) Roger Green, A visitor to the coffee house, reminisced in 2021 that he heard a singer perform “Alice’s Restaurant” and had a specific recollection of people singing “Take it to the Limit” by the Eagles. (Ramblin’ with Roger, September 3, 2021)

The Cave Inn, therefore, provided a needed service to the community. My friend and New Paltz United Methodist Church member Millie Meyer remembers volunteering at the Cave Inn managing the venue for young musicians. She says they were a lively bunch!  The Cave Inn was still going strong twenty years later: “Sing Out at the Cave Inn: Sponsored by the SCC campus ministry … Refreshments, limited seating, so come early. Sing along or just listen.” (Highland NY Mid Hudson Post, Sept. 19, 1986) This was clearly a hot spot in the New Paltz community!

Besides music, the Cave Inn featured speakers from many places to offer inspiring messages for New Paltz youth. One such speaker was historian and parishioner Dr. Carleton Mabee. On April 7, 1967, the New Paltz Times reported:  “Guest Speaker at the Cave Inn Forum for College Students at 6 p.m. will be Dr. Carlton (sic) Mabee. His topic will be Non-Violence as a Tactic.” This speaks to the church’s and Dr. Mabee’s strong commitment to peace and non-violent solutions to difficult challenges. Mabee, a professor at SUNY/New Paltz and a long-time member of the New Paltz Methodist Church, was a lifelong pacifist and one of a handful of conscientious objectors during World War II. His message of peace no doubt inspired his audience of college students during the Vietnam War in the critical year of 1967.

The Cave Inn exemplifies the mission of New Paltz Methodists to uplift the community with entertainment and educational opportunities for local young people, particularly the local college students.

Sources:  New Paltz Times, Mid-Hudson Post, New Paltz UMC Church Documents, and Roger Green’s newsletter, Ramblin’ with Roger