WHEN I WANT TO ESCAPE THE DAILY GRIND, I HEAD TO CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY. IT’S THE PERFECT PLACE TO GO TO SPEND A DAY, A WEEK, OR THE ENTIRE SUMMER.
In Chautauqua County, New York, visitors have access to five lakes, where they 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 may choose from more than a dozen wineries.
A CENTER OF LEARNING
A must-see in this western-most county of New York 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 more than 130 years.
Founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller and John Heyl 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. It was the first hotel in the United States to have electric lights, courtesy of Miller’s son-in-law, Thomas Edison. Make 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 Chautauqua Institution and in the nearby village of Mayville, which also has a large selection of restaurants. Boutique shopping and fine dining at the French-inspired restaurant La Fleur can be found at the Red Brick Farm just outside the village.
NEAR CHAUTAUQUA LAKE
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 the area.
If you 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 Audubon Center and Sanctuary and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. Peterson, a Jamestown native, was considered one of the greatest naturalists of the 20th century.
On the north shore of Chautauqua Lake, Bemus Point has many lakeside restaurants along with several unique shops. The Italian Fisherman is noted for its pasta, steaks, and seafood. It also has a floating stage, and patrons can enjoy performances from shore or from their boats.
A few miles away in Maple Springs is Midway Park, the second oldest amusement park in the state. It features 26 vintage rides and an open-air roller rink.
THE CHAUTAUQUA-LAKE ERIE WINE TRAIL
One of my favorite area attractions is the 40-mile-long Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail between Silver Creek, New York, and Moorheadville, Pennsylvania. Of the trail’s 20 wineries, 13 are in Chautauqua County. 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 he is eager to discuss his wines.
Westfield, one of the communities along the wine trail, is where Dr. Thomas Welch (founder of Welch Foods Inc.) built his first grape juice factory. Westfield also is noted for its many antique shops. There you’ll find the charming Lincoln-Bedell statues, which depict the meeting between Abraham Lincoln and 12-year-old Grace Bedell in 1861. Miss Bedell was the young lady who sent President-elect Lincoln a letter suggesting he grow a beard.
The Chautauqua Experience
The adult education program started by Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent at Chautauqua Lake in New York spawned Chautauqua assemblies across the country in the late 1800s. Circuit Chautauquas began early in the 1900s, traveling from town to town and setting up tents for up to a week at a time.
The Chautauquas made lectures and entertainment available to millions of people who couldn’t travel to New York. Attendees could expand their knowledge about scientific topics such as electricity, receive religious education, hear world-famous personalities and news makers speak, and experience music and other entertainment that was otherwise unobtainable in their locales.
The Chautauqua movement was strong into the 1930s, but started to decline due to the Depression and the advent of radio and other forms of communication, automobiles, and the population’s movement from rural to metropolitan areas. Circuit Chautauquas are no more. Besides the original Chautauqua Institution in New York, only a few of the several hundred assemblies remain.
OTHER COUNTY HIGHLIGHTS
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 & Spa has two 18-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 at Panama Rocks Scenic Park. This privately owned park has one of the world’s most extensive outcroppings of glacier-sculpted, ocean-quartz-conglomerated rock.
Finish 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” signs in front of farmhouse shops where you can purchase Amish-made items, including furniture, quilts, baked goods, and more.
For more information, contact:
Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau
Chautauqua Main Gate
Route 394, PO Box 1441
Chautauqua, NY 14722
(716) 357-4569 or (866) 908-4569
Visit and Learn About the Amish Community in Chautauqua County
A large Old Order Amish community is 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, or other modern conveniences. Known for their skilled craftsmanship, many Amish make a living by selling furniture, quilts, and other handmade items from shops beside their homes.
To learn more about why this religious community lives as it does, take an Amish Flair Tour, offered by Carol Lorenc of the Foxe Farmhouse Bed & Barn 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 community life. She also explains that their religion is based on being humble; that’s why members of the community dress alike.
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 products. 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 & Barn, hosted by innkeeper Sharon Howe Sweeting.
For more information:
Amish Flair Tours: Carol Lorenc
Foxe Farmhouse Bed & Barn
1880 Thornton Rd.
Cherry Creek, NY 14723
Tours by reservation only.