CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION – Experienced 22-27 September 2013

I had to experience sleeper car train travel. I had to experience a trans-Atlantic crossing. I had to experience Star Island, and now I am experiencing Chautauqua (but in an off-season mode).

Church Camp Meeting grounds began in the early 19th century as week or two week retreats, usually by water for religious spiritual learning.  Originally attendees lived in tents on small close lots.  In 1873 the Chautauqua Lake Camp Meeting Association established a small camp here.  Akron, Ohio manufacturer, Lewis Miller, and John Heyl Vincent, a Methodist minister, having similar ideas for standardizing teaching methods for Sunday School teachers joined forces and rented this location in 1874.  The initial mission was to bring ministers, Sunday school teachers and superintendents, along with some families to study Sunday school teaching methods and norms.   With its immediate success, the new Chautauqua Institution purchased the grounds and soon expanded into a summertime center for adult education and cultural enrichment.

Also at this time people were wanting to learn more, and the need for education was expanding.  This faith-based summer resort from the outset offered both religious and secular education which blossomed into the Chautauqua Movement.  By the early 1900s, more than 300 Chautauqua-style resorts associated with various Christian and Jewish congregations had been established from New Jersey to California.  The word Chautauqua became, and is today, the generic descriptive term for resorts that blend the summer season with religion, education, cultural arts and recreation.

The summer season here is 9 weeks during which time 4,000 to 8,000 people on any given day may be here to partake in lectures, concerts, theater, and mind-stimulating discussions.   In the 66 day season this year there were over 2,200 events one could attend.  The season is over now, but this Road Scholar program, with over 200 people, immerses the participants in lectures and discussions during the day, and cultural activities at night.  We have the grounds essentially to ourselves, and most of our activities are in the Atheneum Hotel (atheneum is Greek for “House of Learning”).

Start of my walk for you. See below. (I had to show the hotel again!)

Start of my walk for you. See below. (I had to show the hotel again!)

The full details are on the Road Scholar website (expand the daily schedule).   Mornings are three hour lectures, electives in the afternoon, and musical entertainment in the evenings.  Monday the morning session was a fascinating presentation on Assassinations.  Learning How to Listen to Music was Tuesday.  Something I never would have done on my own, but I enjoyed every note and comment gaining a new appreciation to this art.  Wednesday lecturer on the Civil War in 1863 was knowledgeable but a very poor presenter, and this morning’s session was titled “Making an Impact for Future Generations: A Look at Our Legacy.”   I have so much to share from this, my note to self is to work on a separate post to share what I learned from this, and from the book I read on Chautauqua’s history that I have owned for over 20 years and brought with me to finally read in the right environment.  Tomorrow’s lecture I believe is on poetry.

So, to keep this short(er) I am going to close with a look at some of the historic spots on the grounds followed by a gallery of architectural images.  Enjoy, and:

RAY RECOMMENDS:  Plan a couple days or more on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution and immerse yourself.

Starting this walk with another view of the Atheneum Hotel (above).

Bestor Plaza: The Common with shops, the post office, bookstore, food and library.

Bestor Plaza

Bestor Plaza

The Ashland

The Ashland

THE ASHLAND — I stayed here for a night in the early 1980s.  “Timing is Everything”  A fellow asked me why I was taking a picture and said,  “the owner is here I will tell her to show you around.”  She enthusiastically toured me throughout (I did remember the layout of the floor I stayed on) and showed all the work she had done in the last 22 years.

The Auditorium with seating for 5,000 and overflow for many more.


The Miller Bell Tower (1911) and Pier Building (1916) that replaced the original boat landing building that was the original entrance until the trolley and automobiles brought vacationers to the road at the top of the hill.


A model of Palestine, its Biblical towns and the Mediterranean.  Used from the beginning to teach children and adults Bible history and geography.


Site of the first meeting.


An early cottage from the beginning, about 1875, and originally built on a tent platform.


The Miller Cottage.  Built by the founder.  To be ready in time for President Grant’s visit in 1875, the building was prefabricated in Akron, and moved to the site for rapid assembly.  Miller’s daughter, Mina, later became Thomas A. Edison’s second wife, and they did vacation here often.  In the original family since new, the cottage is on the Historical Register and now on the market for $2.3 million.


Alumni Hall of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Society which is the oldest continuously operating book club in America.  Attendees partake in a four year reading program for graduation.


Hall of Philosophy which is used daily seating over 2,000 for various lectures and programs.


And, you know me and collecting rocking chair images.  You may like to view and follow this rocking chair page I started last night,

And, a postscript:

VACATION YESTERDAYS OF NEW ENGLAND by William H. Marnell is the book that solidified my interest in summer resorts coupled with my owning a Victorian summer cottage in a late 19th century camp meeting ground community patterned, in fact, after the Chautauqua Institution on the western shore of Chautauqua Lake.  I brought with me on this trip two books about the history of Chautauqua, one written in 1943, CHAUTAUQUA: AN AMERICAN PLACE, which I have had in my library unread for over 20 years (I started it last night) and a second book CHAUTAUQUA: IT ARCHITECTURE AND ITS PEOPLE, that I purchased here in the early 1980s.

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2 Responses to CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION – Experienced 22-27 September 2013

  1. Carolyn Norback says:

    Can’t wait to talk to you about all of this. Great trip!

  2. Jim says:

    CI is a fascinating organization, Ray — sort of a conflation of religion, social activism and art that has deep roots in some of the socially-conscious self-improvement movements of the 19th century US “great awakening”. (I’m thinking along the lines of Bronson Alcott’s “Fruitlands” experiment, the Oneida Colony, the Transcendentalist Movement and the various revivalist waves of 1840’s America.) And they’ve done very good opera over the years! Thanks for sharing your experiences there with us.

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