Chautauqua: An American Narrative

Feb 1, 2011

I was raised just a few miles down the road from Chautauqua in Lakewood, NY and I spent many summers on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution. I have to say, I feel like it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I’ve visited many planned communities in my time, places like Celebration Village and Seaside, FL, that can only really mimic that picturesque setting of a place like Chautauqua. Beautiful historic architecture, academic study and classes of all kinds for all ages, visual arts, music, theater, dance, history, lectures, open forums, culture, sailing and other leisure sports are all set against the green and flowering backdrop of gorgeous Chautauqua Lake in scenic Western New York state. The winding brick ”streets”, historic private residences, institute buildings and places like the Victorian era Athenaeum Hotel (below) make you feel like you have been transported to another time where you don’t have to worry about being run over by a texting soccer mom in a huge SUV every time you step out the door or constantly search your neighborhood on the national sex offender registry. Chautauqua really is as good as it looks from the outside… it is actually better. Everything is within easy walking distance, but many people ride bicycles, which gives it this feeling like you’ve stepped into the past. Is it any wonder that I grew up feeling like I was born in the wrong time? My aunt covered the Chautauqua season for the local paper when she was younger, my great-great-grandmother owned a home there, my father has catered in many of the private homes, my father’s former pastry chef at his restaurant was head of housekeeping at the Athenaeum for many, many years (she’s got to be in her 90’s by now if she is still living) and I even have Chautauqua toile wallpaper in my house!

Athanaeum Hotel


Even though I haven’t been there in over 15 years, it has played a huge part in my life. The desire to learn anything I can, to always embrace culture and beauty and to be a more civic-minded person. I feel like all of this is rooted there at Chautauqua. I wish that more people would try it, that more people would expose their children to the things that I was exposed to. Vacationing here is a bit on the expensive side, but no more so than a week long trip to an amusement park. I find this to be so much more rewarding, because you aren’t wasting hours in lines waiting for a 3 minute pay off. The things you learn and what you experience here will last a lifetime. I can’t wait for the summer to come so that Loving Husband can see WHY I get SO homesick. It makes me cry a little with excitement just thinking about it! Sitting here in the Wisconsin snow I just want to be back on the green grass, listening to a string quartet in the distance and watching painters try to capture the American flags draping from gingerbread-work porches flutter in the lake breeze as the sun shining through the trees danced around me. The documentary says it best: “There is nowhere like Chautauqua, it is the best of America.”

Chautauqua: An American Narrative

If you are interested in learning more about this wonderful place and seeing more of it’s beautiful historic backdrops, this documentary is now available for instant play on Netflix!

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