Recharge at Chautauqua
By Christine A. Smyczynski
The Chautauqua Institution, a charming Victorian village on the shores of Chautauqua Lake, has served as a center for performing arts, education, religion and recreation for over 130 years.
Founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller and John Vincent, it has hosted many notable speakers and guests over the years including Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington and Robert F. Kennedy. In addition, nine U.S. Presidents, from Ulysses S. Grant to Bill Clinton, have visited.
Today, over 150,000 people from all over the world flock to Chautauqua during its nine week summer season. Some come just for a day while others stay for the entire summer.
Visitors have many daily options, including worship services, lecturers, chamber music, opera, theatrical performances and other entertainment. There is also a 36-hole golf course on the grounds, along with tennis courts, shuffleboard and a swimming beach.
Each week has a specific theme. The morning lecture, held at 10:45 each day in the 5,000 seat amphitheater, features a distinguished speaker focusing on that week’s topic. Sports in America Week will feature Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League. Other speakers include Norman Ornstein, Co-director of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project (Restoring legitimacy to our election system), and author and television commentator, Roger Rosenblatt (Writing week).
Not merely a vacation
“Chautauqua is an experience and a way of life, not a vacation,” said Joan Harf of Erie, Pennsylvania, who has been summering at Chautauqua with husband, Walt, for nearly 40 years. “We discovered it when our children were in their teens and now they come back with their children.” Walt added, “It’s a social experience. We share a lot of things with folks all day, including lectures, plays and opera, which we can discuss with them.”
Milt and Carol Peters of Findley, Ohio have been visiting Chautauqua a few weeks each summer since 1977. “We were planning a road trip to New Jersey and we were looking for a place to visit along the way, and thought it would be interesting to stop there,” said Carol.
Walt had heard about Chautauqua on a radio show, while Carol remembered learning about it in a history class. They were so taken with the speakers that they decided to go back again.
Both couples stated that there are an overwhelming number of choices of things to do. “There are so many good things to do,” exclaimed Joan. Carol added, “First time visitors can get exhausted and stressed out because there is so much to do.” However, many people come here to do nothing but relax.
Many lodging options
While there are hundreds of small cottages, apartments, hotels and bed & breakfast inns available on or near the institutions grounds, the most well-known accommodation is the Athenaeum Hotel, a “Grand Dame” hotel. This 160 room, recently renovated hotel, built in 1881 by 90 men in 90 days, is one of the few Victorian-era wooden hotels still in existence. It was the first hotel in the United States to have electric lights, courtesy of, Lewis Miller’s son-in-law, Thomas Edison.
The Peters have stayed at the Athenaeum for the past seven years. “The Athenaeum is in the center of things,” said Milt. “The hotel is very quaint and we like to interact with the other guests,” added Carol.
Outside the Institution. There are also numerous things to do in the Chautauqua area outside the institution. Take a ride on Chautauqua Lake on the Chautauqua Belle (716-753-2403) a 98 foot long steamboat or visit Midway Park (716-386-3165) Route 430 in Maple Springs, the second oldest amusement park in the state.
Enjoy shopping at the Red Brick Farm (716-753-7969) 5031 West Lake Road. Numerous fine dining restaurants are located near the lake in Mayville.
At the other end of the lake you’ll find the city of Jamestown, home to the Lucy-Desi Museum (716-484-0800; www.lucy-desi.com) , along with the Fenton History Center (716-66406256; www.fenstonhistorycenter.org ), Robert H. Jackson Center (716-483-6646; www.roberthjackson.org) , Jamestown Audubon Nature Center (716-569-2345; www.jamestownaudubon.org) and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (716-665-2473; www.rtpi.org) .
PO Box 28
Chautauqua, NY 14722
The Institution’s nine week summer season runs from late June to late August. A gate fee is charged to enter the village during the summer season, except for Sunday, when admission is free. Fees range from $8 for an afternoon to $325 for the entire week. Lodging reservations should be made several months in advance.
The hotel operates on the American Plan, which includes breakfast, lunch and a five course dinner. Room rates range from $199 (single) to $ 519 (double).
Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau at the main gate of the Chautauqua Institution
Open daily 9-5, year-round.