Get away from it all in Chautauqua County
By Christine A. Smyczynski
When I want to escape the daily grind, I head to Chautauqua County, about a 90 minute drive south of Buffalo, New York. It’s the perfect place to go to spend a day, a week or the entire summer.
Interested in the great outdoors? There’s access to five lakes, where you can enjoy boating, fishing and other water sports. The county has numerous parks and natural areas, along with golf galore in the summer and two ski resorts in winter. History buffs will enjoy the county’s many museums, while wine connoisseurs have over a dozen wineries to choose from.
Of course, a must-see is the world-renowned Chautauqua Institution. Nestled on the shores of Chautauqua Lake, this gated Victorian-era community has been a center for performing arts, religion, education, and recreation for over 130 years. Founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller and John Vincent as a learning experience for Sunday school teachers, the institution's nine week summer season draws people from all over the world to hear distinguished speakers, attend worship services and enjoy musical and theatrical performances.
The hotel of choice is often the Athenaeum Hotel, a 160 room wooden hotel built in 1881; the first hotel in the United States to have electric lights, courtesy of Mr. Miller’s son-in-law, Thomas Edison. My husband and I visited Chautauqua for just a day last summer, but we made sure to take time to sit and relax on the rockers on the porch of this “Grand Dame” hotel.
There are also numerous other accommodations, both on the grounds of the institution and in the nearby village of Mayville, which also has a large selection of restaurants to choose from. Boutique shopping and fine dining at the French-inspired restaurant, La Fleur, can be found at the Red Brick Farm just outside the village.
In Jamestown, on the eastern edge of Chautauqua Lake, relive the days of “I Love Lucy” at the Lucy-Desi Museum and at the newly opened Desilu Playhouse. Jamestown’s favorite redhead, Lucille Ball, was born in nearby Celoron.
Want to learn about local history? Stop by Jamestown’s Fenton History Center, once the home of New York Governor Reuben Fenton.
Nature lovers will want to check out the Jamestown Audubon Nature Center and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. Peterson, a Jamestown native, was considered one of the greatest naturalists of the 20th century.
The Italian Fisherman, in Bemus Point on the north shore of Chautauqua Lake, noted for its pasta, steaks and seafood, has a floating stage, where patrons can enjoy performances from the shore or from their boat.
There’s also many other lakeside restaurants, along with several unique shops in Bemus Point. A short distance away in Maple Springs, Midway Park, the second oldest amusement park in the state, has 26 vintage rides and open-air roller rink.
One of my favorite area attractions is the forty mile long Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail. With twenty wineries, thirteen in Chautauqua County and seven more over the border in Pennsylvania, it’s easy to spend a couple of days exploring these small farm wineries; in most cases the owner is right behind the bar pouring the samples and they are eager to discuss their wines.
Westfield, one of the communities along the wine trail, is where Dr. Thomas Welch, founder of Welch’s Foods, built his first grape juice factory. In the center of Westfield, which is noted for its many antique shops, you’ll find the charming Lincoln-Bedell statutes, which depict the meeting between Abraham Lincoln and twelve-year-old Grace Bedell in 1861. Miss Bedell had previously sent president-elect Lincoln a letter suggesting he grow a beard.
Of course, a visit to Chautauqua County wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the tiny village of Findley Lake, which has a number of small shops, including a candle making factory. Just south of the village, Peek ‘n Peak Resort and Spa has two eighteen-hole golf courses, as well as a full service spa.
A short distance away, in the town of Panama, enjoy hiking and exploring rocks, caves and crevices Panama Rocks, a privately owned park that has one of the world’s most extensive outcroppings of glacier-sculpted, ocean-quartz-conglomerated rock.
Finish up your tour in the eastern portion of Chautauqua County, where you’ll find a large Amish community near the village of Cherry Creek. Here you can drive on rural roads looking for the “open” sign in front of farmhouse shops where you can purchase Amish-made items, including furniture, quilts, baked goods and more.
For more information
Chautauqua County Visitor’s Bureau
Chautauqua Institution Main Gate
Route 394, Box 1441
Chautauqua, NY 14722
716-357-4569 or 866-908-4569
Open daily 9-5 year-round.
Visit and learn about the Amish community in Chautauqua County
There is a large Old Order Amish community located in eastern Chautauqua County, near the village of Cherry Creek. Several Amish families arrived here in 1949 to begin the community, which lives without electricity, indoor plumbing and other modern conveniences. Known for their skilled craftsmanship, many Amish make a living by selling furniture, quilts and other hand-made items from shops beside their homes.
To learn more about why this religious community lives as they do, take an Amish Flair Tour, offered by Carol Lorenc of the Foxe Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast in Cherry Creek. The tour begins at the Depot, a delightful country store located in Cherry Creek’s 1896 railroad depot. Patty Frost, proprietor of the Depot, gives a bit of history on how the Amish religion began and what is important to their community life. She also explains that their religion is based on being humble, that’s why they all dress alike.
Climb into Carol’s van and be prepared to learn about Amish life. Carol takes you on a driving tour of the area, including stops at several shops, which may include a quilt shop, toy shop and furniture maker. You’ll have the opportunity to meet Amish craftsmen and purchase their wares. Just keep in mind, no photos of the Amish, no charge cards are accepted and shops are closed on Sunday. Lorenc’s tour concludes with a three-course tea at the Cherry Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast, hosted by innkeeper Sharon Howe Sweeting.
For more information:
Amish Flair Tours: Carol Lorenc Foxe Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast (877-468-5523; www.foxefarmhouse.com ) 1880 Thornton Rd., Cherry Creek. Tours by res