Settle back and prepare to visit one of the most unique places in all of the country.
Somehow, I didn’t realize until yesterday that we were only 44 miles from Chautauqua New York, one of my favorite places. I have spent numerous summers there over the past 20 years but have not been there since we started full timing in 2010.
It’s very difficult to explain Chautauqua to someone who has never been there but I’ll give it a shot. It is a non profit 750 acre educational center beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York. It was originallly called Chautauqua Lake Sunday School when it was first founded by Inventor Lewis Miller (father in law of Thomas Edison) and Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent in 1874. It was an experiment in out of school vacation learning and was wildly successful. It provided courses for Sunday School teachers as well as academic subjects, music, art and physical education. The nation’s first book club was the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle founded in 1878 and still going strong. They select 9 books each year and the authors come to Chautauqua to talk about their works. Among those coming this year are Geraldine Brooks to talk about The Secret Chord and Billy Collins will talk about Aimless Love.
I’m a member of the circle and stopped by their building on our walk through the grounds today
Today Chautauqua has expanded from a season for a few weeks to one of 9 weeks over the summer. There are approximately 400 year round residents but as many as 10,000 people attend events during “the season”. The season this year began yesterday and runs through August 28.
I think of Chautauqua as “Culture Camp for Grown Ups on a beautiful lake”. Since it opened it has served as a center for public discourse on the important issues facing American Society. Each of the weeks has a specific theme and on a social, political or academic issue and in the morning guest experts speak in the open air amphitheater dedicated in 1875 and seating 4000. Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Roosevelt and Booker T Washington among many more have spoken from its stage. It is an amazing building and contributed to the entire grounds being added to the National Park Services National Register of Historic Places and to the 1989 designation as a National Historic Landmark District. The entire little town is a Victorian fantasy of gingerbread houses with flowers and brick walks. Cars must be left in the parking lot outside the gate.
In addition to the morning lectures there is an afternoon lecture on a religious or spiritual topic and an evening program ususally of the arts. Chautauqua has a resident summer Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Company, Opera Company and Theater Company. There are numerous guest artists who perform. We learned that this year among those are LeAnn Rimes, The Capitol Steps Joshua Bell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, the amazing pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk and Straight No Chaser to name a few.
As you can see from the Theme Week Board above, the theme for this Week is Roger Rosenblatt and Friends on Creative Expression. I really don’t understand why the planners of Chautauqua’s speakers are so enamoured with Roger Rosenblatt but they have had him back for one of these “friends” things nearly every other year for over 10 years. This year he’ll be on stage with different “friends” each morning. You can see them below. I wonder if Roger really is friends with Jane Pauley and Garry Trudeau, Lorin Stein, editor-in-chief of The Paris Review, Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, David Lynn, editor of the Kenyon Review, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Ann Patchett and Alan and Arlene Alda? I apologize if you are a huge Rosenblatt fan. He’s just not my cup of tea although I would be interested in hearing what many of his “friends” have to say.
And if that won’t keep you busy, there is a Special Studies program where you can take courses in music, art, dance, drama, computer skills, yoga…..well just about anything you can think of. PLUS there is a gym and a sports club and you can rent sail boats or kayaks. There are several baseball teams and the Chautauqua First Night Run. There is the Bird, Tree and Garden club with hikes and programs for we environmentalists.
Whew………….if you want to fill up your life with things to do, this is the place. Opps I forgot to mention the cinema which has great films including this summer, Hail Caesar, Women of 69’ Unboxed, Captain America, Money Monster, The Jungle Book, Brooklyn. Then there are the local restaurants AND how could I leave out the spectacular Atheneum Hotel, the largest wooden building in the eastern United States, which was built in the Second Empire style in 1881. It has a two-story porch supported by narrow columns, with a central, mansard-covered tower.
Ok enough…………I hope you get the picture.
All of this is not free of course. How could it be. The community is gated during the 9 week season and you purchase a gate pass which enables you to attend all the lectures and programs in the amphitheater as well as around other areas of the grounds. This includes all the symphony concerts, the Ballet and one presentation by the opera and theater. Those events are held in their own buildings, the Bratton Theater and the Norton Memorial Hall Opera House for separate admissions. Housing can be found by renting a house, a condominium, a room in an historic hotel on the grounds or in some of the private homes. You can come by the day, by the week, or for the full season which is what I did for several years. It was an amazing and wonderful way to spend the summer.
Today was Sunday and Sundays are free at Chautauqua from 7am to 10pm. Parking is also free from 7am to 2pm. So we took advantage and drove over just to see friends and visit a beloved place. On the drive over on I 86 I saw this sign. I’ve never seen one before. Wish it said “phone stop” since this implies it isn’t OK to text OBVIOUSLY but that it is ok to talk on a cell phone and drive.
OK back to our day at Chautauqua. We rode our bikes on to the grounds and parked them in front of the library which doesn’t open until noon today. It is at one end of Bestor Plaza (first picture above) a lovely green space with the administrative offices at the other end and the book store and restaurant on one side.
After walking all around Bestor Plaza and into the bookstore, we head down the hill toward the lake and the Guest House where I rented a room each year I was in Chautauqua.
On our way down Bliss Street (perfect name) which fronts on the a stream, we pass several old Chautauqua homes and for a while with this couple who are working on the garden in front of their home. The gardens in Chautauqua are a great source of pride to the homeowners and the institution. In the conversation they tell us that this home was one of the original platform tents used for the first decade as housing at Chautauqua. It and many others were turned into homes. They have a picture of their house from 1935 on the porch. It has been changed again since then to add this second floor.
We cross over the bridge and there is the Gleason whose back faces Chautauqua Lake. Built in 1886, the Gleason has had five owners since then. Pat King has been the owner since 1969. She raised 4 children here and does a wonderful job of providing a beautiful, clean and hospitable place to stay in Chautauqua.
I’m thrilled to find her sitting on the porch. She’s surprised to see us. It’s wonderful to see her. David snaps our picture.
There are 4 porches at the Gleason two overlooking North Lake Avenue and two overlooking the lake. One is enclosed and the other 3 are open. They were my favorite places to be when I stayed here.
First floor glassed in porch often used for eating meals which guests can bring in
or make in the kitchen although there is only a refrigerator, microwave and toaster.
The open air 2nd floor front porch middle and south ends used for eating, reading, lounging, playing games.
My favorite porch, the open air 2nd floor back porch over looking the lake.
The Gleason dock on the lake is just behind the house and I left my kayak there so I could go out any time I wanted. Lakes are not my favorite kayaking experience and Chautauqua Lake is pretty fully developed all along its shore. Few natural spots left.
From the dock you can look south and see the Bell Tower which is located on the first landing spot for those who came to Chautauqua in the 1880’s by boat. The Bell Tower is Chautauqua’s symbol.
Coming back on the dock I can see the two back porches on the first and second floors. The fully glassed in basement was once a restaurant with dining inside and on the patio. The Kings made it into a lovely home for their family.
We leave The Gleason and walk on down North Lake Drive enjoying the lake and the houses which overlook it.
At Miller Park we walk on closer to the Lake and look back at what was the Spensor Hotel and is has now been turned into Condominiums. Many of the hotels have gone this route so that individual rentals are now from their owners rather than from hotels or guest houses. Prices for accomodations have gone up as a result.
The Chautauqua Sports club has sailing races and will rent you a boat slip for as long as you like. It is lovely to see the sail boats on the lake.
Looking back north at the Bell Tower you can see the little peninsula it sits upon and the former ferry dock building now used for Special Studies classes.
Now we come to the Atheneum Hotel which has pride of place on the Lake Front and is owned by The Chautauqua Institution.
The houses in Chautauqua are so decorative and most have plaques which give the year of their construction. It’s fun to just walk up and down the streets looking at the houses. I could show dozens of pictures but I won’t. Just a few of the kinds of details you see if you look closely.
Some of the houses still are sweet little cottages. This is the one for Carrie, Celia and Matthew. I’ll bet the name has a great story behind it.
From there we walk into “the ravine” as it is known. This wooded area has several “outdoor classrooms”.
One is the Gilbert Burgenson Nature Classroom with a cement center walk and nice backed benches in rows on either side with a podium in front. Closer to the stream is the Mable Powers Firecircle with Benches dedicated to the various Native American Tribes and clans within them. These two people were both for 30 and 44 years respectively Naturalist Eductors at Chautauqua.
A tulip flower from the Poplar tree lies on the path.
Chautauqua has grown out of the grounds of the original camp to both the north and the south where there are small neighborhoods of newer homes. This bridge over the ravine leads from the main grounds to the homes in the far south end. We don’t go down there today but rather turn back into the upper area of the grounds further from the lake, the Atheneum and the Ampitheater.
While there are many Denominational Houses at Chautauqua there are only two actual churches, Hurlbut Methodist and this sweet Episcopal Chapel of the Good Shepherd.
By the time we walk by the doors are open and church has ended.
Several of the other buildings used for lectures and programs are here across from and just beyond the church.
The Hall of Christ built in 1900 and Designed by Paul J. Pelz, the noted Washington, D.C.architect, is a stone, brick and terra cotta building with a Classical portico supported by four full-scale Ionic columns surmounted by large pediment with a low relief of the Bible, with arms disseminating its message in all directions.
Alumni Hall headquarters of the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle, was built in 1892 and has an octagon central room. Readings are held on the porch and in the trustees room inside. Book discussions are held on the lawn.
The banners handing from the wide veranda are from previous graduation classes of the Book Group. There are requirements to be a graduate of the CLSC and each year there is a graduation ceremony and members of each class march behind their banners.
A brick walk leads directly over to the Hall of Philosophy where the CLSC authors each week’s chosen book will read from it, discuss it and answer questions on Thursday afternoons.
The Hall of Philosophy, build in 1903 and set in a stand of trees, is an open-air Doric Temple. The interior is lowered slightly so that people on surrounding benches have an unobstructed view of the podium. The shorter ends are framed by four Doric columns while there are six columns on each flank. The roof is trussed and covered by a shingled, wood roof. It can seat 1,000 persons. Originally a tented structure, the current Hall with its cast concrete columns is approximately 100 feet in length by 60 feet wide. The corners support Classical caldrons on tripods which are ceremoniously lighted annually. The Hall is used by the Religion Department and the Chautauqua Learning and Scientific Circle (CLSC), which holds its colorful graduation ceremonies here each August.
The Hall of Philosophy is the second most prominent lecture platform at Chautauqua. It is used daily for the 2pm afternoon
spiritual lectures, for the author readings and discussions of their CLSC books and for other meetings including this morning’s Catholic Mass which will be held in about half an hour at 12:30. On the floor are tile versions of many of the CLSC Graduation Flags. A class is often dedicated to an idea or a person as in the Emerson class of 1917.
Along side the path between Alumni Hall and the Hall of Philosophy is the Hall of Missions used for many ecumenical discussions as well as for meditation and yoga practices.
In its yard are a wonderful group of enthusiastic singers. As a former member of the Charlottesville Women’s Choir, I sing along.
The Hall of Philosophy is located at the end of the “brick walk” which runs from Bestor Plaza and along which many of the denominational houses reside. It becomes awash with people about 30 minutes before any program scheduled there.
I wonder if Garrison Keillor stays here at the Lutheran House when he performs at Chautauqua?
There are also individual houses on the Brick Walk including this favorite of mine offering thoughtful and often spiritual ideas along with bits of whimsy in its garden. Notice the little old woman sitting on the right in this picture.
Love her outfit with the glovves, two watches and Ann Taylor bag.
Her message reads
If thou of fortune
and in thy stores
but two loaves left,
and with the dole,
to feed the soul
Just before we get to the Amphitheater on the lawn of the Presbyterian House are a group of much larger women. They have been sculpted since I’ve been here as I have not seen them. They were done by the same sculptor, Kristen, as the singers. This collection is known as United We Stand. There are 5 women from 5 different cultures, Black, White, Middle Eastern, Asian and Hispanic. They are wonderfully done. But I wonder where is the Native woman? I’d like to ask Kristen to add her to this group.
As we pass by the Amphiteater at about 12:30 the main service of worship and sermon is about to end. Each week there is a different minister from somewhere in the country who leads these services on Sundays 10:30 and each weekday a morning worship here at 9:15 just before the main lecture at 10:30 You can see fairly well the massive size of the open air amphitheater which seats 4000. It’s too large for even my wide angle lens.
On the stage on the right is the President of Chautauqua Institution Tom Becker who has tapped the gavel 3 times to open this 2016 session of the Chautauqua Institution just as was done by John Vincent at the very first opening. In the center is the Chaplin of the week which this week is Fr. Greg Boyle S.J. Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries which is an amazing outreach demonstrating the good works religious groups can do in their communities. Take a look at their website. I’m not sure who is on the left assisting Father Boyle.
Behind them is Jarod Jacobson who has been coming to Chautauqua since he was 5 and has been the organist and choir director here for 21 years, and coordinator of worship and sacred music for the past 11. The massive Massey Organ he plays was a 1907 gift from Mrs. Eliza A. Massey of Ontario, Canada in memory of her husband, Hart Massey. It was built into the back stage and is the largest outdoor organ anywhere in the world with 5640 pipes. That is massive! But as you can imagine being in an amphitheater which is entirely open-air except for its roof, subjects the high-precision instrument to extraordinarily hostile environments of extreme winter conditions.
It is an amazing instrument to hear. The pinnacle of every service since 1907 has been its closing song: “Largo” from George Frederick Handel’s opera Xerxes. Jacobsen refers to “Largo” as the closest thing Chautauqua has to a holy relic, and he said it’s almost always played in a loud triumph, letting the organ go full tilt. If you’d like to hear this amazing organ and organist, here is a 2008 Youtube video of the playing of Handel’s Largo. It’s an amateur recording but still well worth the 5 minutes to listen to this organ master and the magnificent instrument he plays. In the video notice the flag above the choir. I do love Chautauqua.
Not sure why the blank white banner is in front of some of the pipes in this picture of the organist and the choir today but below that is a picture of the pipes from the Utube video so you can see how big the pipes are without watching the video if bandwidth is an issue
On down the walk toward the library we pass by the Hulquist Center and along the walk in front of it is the Special Studies Meet and Greet where you can go to meet some of the instructors for their classes for this week and find out more about what you would be learning and experiencing.
From there we head to the library where I surprise my good friend Carol Baker who has spent the last 11 summers traveling from Minnesota to Chautauqua to work. She’s been at the library for 6 years. She was really surprised.
We pick up our bikes outside of the library and bike around Bestor Plaza where we see the Chautauqua Fire Department has brought out its antique engine to sit by the tent for its chicken BBQ. David of course took lots of pictures.
The BBQ trailer is the vehicle parked on the edge of the plaza just behind the engine. You can see the tents for the patrons to its right next to the plaza walk. If you’d like to see Bestor Plaza live from the 2nd floor of the Colonnade Building building behind me, use this link to the Bestor Cam. You can see the fountain in the middle and the library at the end and whatever anyone is doing. It’s fun!!
We pedal by the Bestor Cam so if you had been watching then, you would have seen us. We turn left on Pratt Street and go by the newly renovated Fowler-Kellog Hall which houses the art gallery. We stop in to take a look.
They have done a simply fantastic job of renovating this lovely Queen Anne frame building. The paint scheme is wonderful.
This beauty once sat at the foot of Bestor Plaza opposite the library and was moved around the corner to make way for the Collonade. Wonder whose idea that was?
Next we pass the Bratton Theater one of the most intimate theater settings I’ve ever been in. There is not a bad seat in the house.
And then past Norton Hall a beaux arts theater given in 1929 by Mrs. O.W. Norton in memory of her husband and daughter. Her gift stipulated that all Opera had to be in English. That’s pretty tough for true opera lovers including the director and cast. It seats 1367 people and cost a whopping $140,000 in the year of the stock market crash
A swing by the Chautauqua cinema and our 2:00 deadline for free parking is upon us. We’ve seen a lot, though not everything, but it’s getting hot here in SW New York – 88 degrees. For this I could have stayed in Charlottesville.
We get Ruby out of the lot and drive a block we could have walked up to Andraccio’s restaurant which you know is a true Italian eatery when they have Frank Sinatra piped out into the parking lot. We order a pizza and David gets a brew from the nearby Southern Tier Brewery. I know he’d want to go for a tour if it weren’t ‘no tours on Sunday.
On the ride back to the park I’m able to get some pictures of the Interstate signs as we travel through the Seneca Nation. They are the people from whom all this land was stolen. I’m happy to see that at least they have their language on some of the road signs.
Thanks for coming all the way through our Chautauqua Day with me. I’ll be anxious to know your reactions. If you are interested in visiting here is the link to all things Chautauqua. If you’d like to come in your rig, here are links to the two closest campgrounds. Each is less than 5 miles away. Camp Prendergast Camp Chautauqua