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The Buffalo News
June 19, 2011

Chautauqua County: Celebrating 200 Years of History


            Chautauqua County, that wonderful year-round getaway destination located about an hour south of Buffalo, is celebrating its Bicentennial this year. There are a number of events in the upcoming months that commemorate the county’s 200 years.


A bit of history

            Chautauqua County was officially established on February 9, 1811. Back then; the country had only two towns, Chautauqua and Pomfret. The county was named after Chautauqua Lake; which comes from the Native American word Jad-da’gwah, which loosely translated means “bag tied in the middle,” referring to the shape of the lake.

            Earlier this year, on February 9, 2011, the Bicentennial kicked off with current county legislators Larry Barmore and Ron Lemon re-enacting the first meeting of the board of supervisors. On that same day, all mail processed in the 36 post offices in Chautauqua County was stamped with a commemorative postage cancellation.

            You can buy commemorative Bicentennial lapel pins at the county historian’s office or the county clerk’s office for only $5.00, with proceeds going to support Bicentennial programs.

The best place to learn about Chautauqua history is at the McClurg Museum in Westfield, which is the home to the Chautauqua County Historical Society. This circa 1820, 16-room mansion, once home to James McClurg, is filled with artifacts from the historical society’s collection. McClurg was a wealthy man; unlike most settlers in this area who built simple log homes, McClurg wanted a more stately home for his family. When the last of McClurg’s descendants died, the home was left to the village of Westfield to be used as a public building.

The Chautauqua County Historical Society and the McClurg Museum will be highlighting 200 historically significant individuals from Chautauqua County each week in a one-minute biography featured on local radio stations. The biographies, both audio and text, will be posted on the museum’s website


Passport to History

            One of the more exciting Chautauqua County Bicentennial projects is the Bicentennial Passport, which features 16 different historical sites or events. Purchase the passports for only $2.00 at the following locations: The McClurg Museum (Westfield), Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse, Findley Lake and Mina Historical Society, Clymer area Historical Society, and the Chautauqua County Visitor’s Bureau (at the Chautauqua Institution Main Gate).

Visit 6, 12, or all 16 of the attractions and sites and have your passport stamped at each one and you can enter a prize giveaway drawing, which will take place at the end of 2011; all passports must be competed by November 1.Prizes include a dell laptop computer, a weekend party at the Cherry Creek B&B, a 55” LCD HDTV, and gate passes to the Chautauqua Institution. The grand prize is a family season ski pass from Peak ‘N Peak resort and a weekend stay at the resort, a $3,000 value.

Attractions included on the passport are the McClurg Museum, Dunkirk Lighthouse, Findley Lake Historical Society, Clymer Historical Society, Yorker Museum, Sinclairville Historical Society, and the Fenton History Museum. Also included are the following events: Two Towns-Two Centuries Celebration, Bemus Point-Stow Ferry Bicentennial Celebration, Ashville Day, Chautauqua County Bicentennial Historical Fair, Chautauqua County Antique Equipment Show, Miller Bell Tower Celebration, Festival of Grapes, Busti Historical Society Apple Festival, and the Harmony Historical Society Harvest Festival.


Upcoming Bicentennial Events

            There are a number of Chautauqua County Bicentennial events this summer including a special July 4th celebration in Mayville, featuring the largest parade in the county. The parade will feature bicentennial-themed floats and there will be displays in Lakeside Park. The day will end with a huge fireworks display.

            On August 13-14, a Bicentennial History Fair will take place at the Chautauqua Suites in Mayville. On hand will be over 50 historical organizations and local historians. There will also be military re-enactors depicting a variety of wars, including the French and Indian War, War of 1812, the Civil War and WWI. On display will be the 9th New York Cavalry’s original reunion banner from 1883. In addition, the Hilltop spinners will demonstrate yarn preparation from 10am-2pm. This free event will take place from 10am-8pm on Saturday and 10am-4pm on Sunday.

            There are many other special bicentennial events taking place this year. Check out the Facebook page for for a complete list of events. You can also contact the Chautauqua County Historian, Michelle Henry at 716-753-4857


Additional historic milestones in Chautauqua County

            The county is not the only entity celebrating 200 years this year. The Bemus Point-Stow Ferry, which has been in continuous operation since 1811, crosses the narrow point of Chautauqua Lake, between Bemus Point and Stow. More information about the ferry can be found at

            A special celebration commemorating the ferry will take place July 8, 9, and 10. This event includes antique boats, cars, and motorcycles, a historical baseball game, and of course, ferry rides.  A related event, a Bicentennial Dinner Dance, is planned for July 23 at the Casino at Bemus Point, with proceeds to benefit the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry.

            Celebrating 100 years this year is the Miller Bell Tower on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. It was dedicated in August 1911 as a memorial to Chautauqua founder, Lewis Miller. On Sunday August 21 at 1pm, there will be a special celebration of the bell tower’s 100 years. Included will be fun family activities and cupcakes for everyone. Admission to the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution is free on Sundays.





Contact information

Chautauqua County Visitor’s Bureau, Route 394 (at the main gate of the Chautauqua Institution), Chautauqua, 866-908-4569,


McClurg Museum, NY Routes 394 & 20, Westfield, 716-326-2977,


Chautauqua County Historians Office 1 North Erie Street, Mayville 716-753-4857


Chautauqua County Clerk’s Office 1 North Erie Street, Mayville 716-753-4331





Not everything in Chautauqua County is old

            While many things in Chautauqua County are 200 years old, there is something brand new in the county. The Lawson Boating Heritage Center, on Chautauqua Lake in Bemus Point, will showcase Chautauqua Lake’s rich boating heritage. The center will be open limited weekend hours starting in July 2011, with a grand opening planned for 2012.

            The center is located in the L-S Aero Marine building; the Lawson family has operated a business at that location since 1918. The Lawson Center will have exhibits of historic boat, along with historical documents and photos. Classes, seminars, and workshops will also be offered.


The Lawson Center, 73 Lakeside Drive, Bemus Point, 716-386-3355,