Chautauqua, NY for Camping and Learning by Helen Mann

Chautauqua, New York. This was such a wonderful experience for us. We stayed in one place for two weeks. Chautauqua is just hard to describe. It is on the shores of a very large natural lake, and was founded in 1874 as an summer training program for Methodist Sunday School teachers. It has now become a renowned center for the performing arts and a resource for the discussion of the important issues of our time.

A quote from their material says it best “Approximately 8,000 persons are in residence on any day during the nine-week session , and a total of over 150,000 attend scheduled public events. Over 300 students are accepted annually into the Chautauqua School of Fine Arts and Performing Arts and more than 400 open-enrollment special studies courses are offered each session. There is a very grand Anthenum Hotel also. There are many very grand private homes, and many B & B’s have developed from the lovely old Victorian homes. Many families, of several generations, have made this their summer home. It is now an Historical District, so nothing came be altered without permission. The National Geographic Traveler magazine featured Chautauqua NY in the 50 “places of a lifetime” to visit in America, describing it as “an idyllic retreat to enrich body, soul and mind”. We recommend it!

We stayed at a large RV park right on the lake very near the Institute. The first week I took a cooking seminar (Jewish Kosher cook) and a Yoga class, and Lawrence took an exercise class. The second week, I took a Word computer course, and we both attended the 10:45 morning lectures in the Amphitheater on the Civil War. I could write an essay on the content of these five lectures, but will just briefly outline them. These were not on the conduct of the war, nor the battles, but on the ramifications of this war at the time throughout the world and the ripples still today. All of the speakers were Ph. Ds, authors of many books, and college professors. There was also a Question and Answer session after the lectures, and I wished they could have gone on for hours. The subject of “reparations” came up each lecture, and none of the lecturers gave them any credence. I enjoyed the answer of the one black lecturer, who said that one ancestor was a slave, and the other was a freeman, so how could that be “analyzed”………….Incidentally, he thought the time for the “black only college” had passed. The lecture by the sole female Ph. D. who spoke on the role of women during the period was so interesting. She is a visiting professor at the Citadel. I bought her book on “The Plantation Mistress”….The role of the southern plantation mistress was very hard and very confined..not nearly as grand as “Mrs. O’Hara’s in Gone With the Wind.

Each morning there was a lecture with a religious theme, and this summer theme emphasized the exploring of the Islam, Jewish and Christian religions. Each week there was a different theme for the 10:45 lecture. If you can think of a subject, there is a short course offered (over 400 .. even saw one for decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs!) The second week, we took a two part cooking seminar on the foods of the North and the South. The two young chefs were from the Seattle area, and the food was delicious. He made a roux that took an hour to stir, and he and two of our class took turns stirring it. The Northern Menu was New England Clam Chowder and Sweet Potato Chowder with Ship Biscuits; Pan-Seared Cod with Summer Succotash and Northern White Bean Cakes, Blueberry Bread Pudding with Cranberry Chutney and Maple Cream (to die for!) and Old-‘Fashioned Lemonade. The Southern Menu was Louisiana Style Shrimp and Crawfish Gumbo (way too much trouble) with skillet cornbread, Virginia-raised Pork Loin with Hoppin’ John, braised Kale and Raspberry Barbecue Sauce (very good). and skillet peaches with butter pecan dumplings and vanilla bean ice cream (to die for), and minted iced tea.

WE did not begin to scratch the surface of the educational, cultural and fine arts offerings at Chautauqua, but did what we could easily do and enjoyed our stay there

“The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle is the oldest continuous book club in the country. Each week during the summer season a CLSC author is featured at a roundtable lecture.” My quotations are from their brochure. You can also call or write for the special studies catalog. These are a potpourri of courses which vary by the week. The staff person recommended pre-enrollment, so you will just have to see what is available during the time you are there.

The RV park where we stayed is Camp Chautauqua RV Resort. For their web site Click Here and phone: 716-789-3435. This is a very large park which contains privately owned homes and park models, and also the RV area. Parts of the
RV area are heavily wooded with narrow roads. We were assigned to the Choctaw area which is open and fairly level, and we will request that area again. It is very close to the Chautauqua Institute.

Even if you cannot attend this season, I think you might enjoy reading about the history and the cultural offerings during a Chautauqua Institute season. There are many young people there on scholarships for the symphony, dance and arts. I think the opera and theater participants are professional. Chautauqua was originally a summer training program for Methodist Sunday School teachers, and there are still religious programs and weekly sermons in the amphi- theater.