Our campground was in Westfield, right on Lake Erie. It was primarily a seasonal-only facility, but they found space for us for a week, and while the hookups were a long way away, everything worked just fine. We had a view of the Lake out of our dining room window and a view of a lovely pond out the back. Down the road, less than a mile, was Westfield Harbor.
This trip to the Chautauqua region was, in part, a reunion for me. Eight miles south of Westfield was the town of Mayville; it anchored the northern end of Lake Chautauqua. Uncle Frank Ferris, my father’s elder brother, had a summer home in Mayville, which later became his and Aunt Minna’s retirement home. He was a Presbyterian minister, an author and an academic. I have clear memories of visiting the house, cutting up a giant tree with him, and viewing the Lake down the hill. I was 8 or 9 at the time.
In addition to the pleasure of both Lakes Erie and Chautauqua, there were several venues of interest. One, of course, was the Chautauqua Institution. You may be well aware of this social and religious source of tolerant education and comfort, but for those who aren’t, here’s a brief history.
The Institution was created in 1874 by Lewis Miller, an inventor/philanthropist, and Reverend John Vincent, a Methodist Episcopal minister. Both were devoted to the development of religious teaching and devised the Institution as a summer learning experience for Sunday School teachers. It quickly expanded, however, to reach out to all who were interested and to advance its four pillars: arts, education, religion and recreation. It created the Literary and Scientific Circle, a four year correspondence course directed to those who couldn’t afford advanced education, so successful that Circuit Chautauquas in revival-like settings cropped up all over the country, supplementing book learning with in-person lectures.
Its 782 acres boast a collection of organizational headquarters, religious institutions, lecture halls, classrooms, private homes, guest accommodations, community facilities and businesses. It is governed by a board of 24, much the same as a university. A 5,000 seat Amphitheatre, built in 1893, is at the core of the arts, with nearly another 5,000 seats in other venues in the community. Concerts by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and groups from every genre – rock ‘n roll included — are joined by a sprawling theater arts workshop with a dozen individual rehearsal buildings that offers several major productions each season. A studio of dance provides performances that include their own ballet company.
Accommodations are anchored by the 184 room Athenaeum Hotel, built in 1881. Homes, apartments, rooms and condos throughout the community can be secured. Every conceivable recreation is available, including a waterfront to die for, tennis courts and an 18 hole golf course. Children are provided with headquarters and learning experiences in all disciplines by age groups.
While something goes on all year, the Chautauqua Season is nine summer weeks, with a promise to provide higher education quality than you achieve during the rest of the year! We took a tour of the community via bus with a well-informed Chautauquan. It lasted over an hour and, more than pointing out this or that building, our guide gave us a full historic perspective. Along the waterfront, there’s a park featuring a model of the city of Palestine, which students traverse while learning the biblical significance. If you wondered if there would be enough to do, each summer week’s schedule of activities and events is a handout printed on both sides of a newspaper-sized sheet of paper.
All presidents from Ulysses Grant to Bill Clinton have given speeches there; how that started is a part of another story below. A smattering of the lecturers’ names you’ll recognize are Jane Addams, Alexander Graham Bell, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Helen Keller, Sandra Day O’Connor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Tim Russert and Elie Wiesel. You can learn much more at www.ciweb.org.
Next, a Bacchus Story. There’s a strip of land extending along the Lake Erie shoreline, roughly five miles wide, that provides the perfect growing conditions for grapes. Over 20,00 acres of vineyards in Chautauqua Valley make it the country’s largest growing county outside of California. A combination of weather and soil enrich the area, and an interesting phenomenon enhances the environment. The land rises quickly from the Erie lakefront and the lake-effect weather, rich with moisture, holds much of it until the land rises. The annual snowfall on Chautauqua, just ten miles or so inland, about eight times what it is near the coast.
The grape growing belt — about 50 miles long with Westfield approximately in the middle — has been fertile ground for unfermented juice as well. In 1849, after planting 22,000 seedlings, Ephraim Wales Bull of Concord, Massachusetts developed his ideal grape and named it Concord for his farm’s location. Twenty years later, dentist Thomas Bramwell Welch reaped 40 pounds of the fruit from Bull’s cuttings in his Vineland, N.J. yard. Cooking them briefly and pressing them, he sealed the juice in bottles and pasteurized it to prevent fermentation. Thus he became the Father of Processed Fruit Juice. A staunch temperance supporter, he found a market among church leaders. His son Charles Welch gave up his own dental profession to pursue the grape, and in 1896, he started the Welch Company in Watkins Glen, NY and moved it 20 miles south to Westfield the following year. Headquarters of the Growers Cooperative is in Westfield, as are Welch processing plants and two original buildings with Welch’s logos etched in their concrete facades.
Of the more than two dozen wineries in the area, we chose Noble Winery, primarily because it offered a magnificent view of Lake Erie. It was a working farm; they exported more grapes than they processed. And they had a unique tasting system. After a few samples, we settled on a delicious bottle of their driest white and took it out to the porch, where we savored the promised view.
While Westfield offered a tour of two dozen historic spots, we settled for the McClurg Museum. In the heart of town is a square, including Moore Park, the McClurg Mansion, and two towering churches. The property was originally all James McClurg’s estate, but he subsequently donated lots to the west and the southeast for the construction of the churches (below), and his grandson, Dr. William Moore, (1852-1938) willed the parkland and home to the town upon his death in 1938.
James McClurg came to Westfield from Pittsburgh in 1810, bought land and established several businesses. When the War of 1812 broke out, he returned to the family foundry to produce cannon for his fledgling country. After that, he returned to Westfield for the rest of his life. He was an energetic businessman and built the earliest frame house in the area. But his crowning glory was the McClurg Mansion, built in 1818 and modeled after his father’s estate in Pennsylvania. It stuck out like a sore thumb, of course, in this frontier environment, but it remained the family homestead until 1938. William Seward, Lincoln’s and Johnson’s Secretary of State, lived in the mansion in the 1830’s, using the room behind the entrance (second pic below) as his office when he ran the Holland Land Company. Incidentally, Seward survived an assassination attempt on his own life on Lincoln’s fatal evening.
The home has almost no original family artifacts, but it has been furnished historically and is peppered with exhibits of Westfield happenings, focusing on the 19th century and heavily on the Civil War. One favorite story is that of twelve year old Grace Bedell of Westfield, who wrote to candidate Lincoln just before his 1860 election urging him to grow a beard. He returned her letter with no promises but was sporting his iconic growth a month later and eventually showed it off to her in Westfield. Another Museum treasure is the archives of Eliel Todd Foote. Born in 1796, he was a physician, legislator and banker. More importantly, he was a historian who devoted a significant amount of his life collecting and compiling the history of the Chautauqua region until his death in 1877. Another feature story illuminates Albion Tourgee, one of the earliest voices against segregation. He was seriously injured at Bull Run but recuperated and reenlisted to fight later at Chattanooga and Chickamauga. Moving to North Carolina after the war, he became a superior court judge, where he faced frequent death threats from the KKK. He left NC in 1880 and moved to Mayville, where he lived for the balance of his life. His judicial efforts shared prominence with his authorship; he wrote an autobiography, A Fool’s Errand in 1879, and it sold over a million copies both in the US and abroad. Subsequent literary and legal efforts provided ups and downs; the most prominent of his late exploits was serving as chief counsel for Homer Plessy in his attempt to remove the separate but equal concept in Louisiana. He lost Plessy v. Fergusen, but he originated the concept that justice should be color-blind. The story of the reversal of that case is mentioned in another story below.
My pictures are scant, because I abided a sign prohibiting them but later learned from our guide, Jack Horst, that I could snap away.
The lower end of Lake Chautauqua is anchored by Jamestown. We spent enough time there to absorb three historical elements. The first was the city’s most beloved citizen: Lucille Ball. A Jamestown native whose career needs no review, she has been honored repeatedly in her home town. In addition to tribute shows, there are two museums in the heart of town, one that traces her youth and career and one that gives the visitor a behind-the-scenes look at her sensational productions. We opted for the latter and entered even though the “On Air” light was lit. Confronted first by a diorama of the early Luci-Desi radio shows, we moved on quickly to her television dynamics. There were authentically reproduced sets of the living room, kitchen and bedroom of the Arnaz apartment, along with the hotel suite that served as a regular set. Backdrops featured many of the costumes that helped Lucy create her many caricatures along with props, awards, musical accomplishments, and a case full of Lucy-dolls. The Mertzes were duly honored. One other artifact was a special three-reel Movieola (editing machine). It was designed out of necessity by Dann Cahn, Lucy and Desi’s film editor for life, who needed it to process the miles of raw takes and compile the final reel.
Our second adventure was the magnificent Roger Tory Peterson Institute. The building itself is worth the trip, but the interior is a treasure for casual observers and diehard naturalists alike. As the former, we were impressed by the multimedia talents of the institute’s namesake and the history of his life. The trophies weren’t shabby, either. Upon entry, you’re confronted by a short faced bear. We were just mildly blasé, having seen a specimen when we visited the history museum in Eely, Nevada. Further into the main floor, one is confronted by the monstrous jaw of a Columbia Mammoth. We stifled a ho-hum, based on our foray into the unearthed Mammoth pit we visited in Waco, Texas that revealed an entire herd. Next, the jaw of a forerunner of the great white shark; again, not an original for us but as dramatic as any. The next exhibit, however, was a warm surprise: an Emperor Penguin with her young. Peterson’s comments about this find were so profound that I’ve shown them below after the picture of the beauties.
Peterson was born in 1908. By 1920, he was drawing birds and soon after, butterflies and moths. He bought his first plate camera in 1922. Over the next decade, he receives accolades and education from every side. In 1934, he published his first Field Guide to the Birds. He had created a unique concept where similar birds are positioned together on a page and the shades of difference highlighted. From then until his death in 1998, he was the leading light in the challenge of animal identification, in every country and on every continent. His format led to the production of Peterson’s Guides to every known species, researched by others but formatted to his model. He was equally capable as a writer, painter, graphic illustrator, and still or movie photographer. The third picture below shows his first movie camera. Peterson claimed that he had seen more than half of all the bird species in the world before he left his teens, and he traveled to every continent in the world. The final pic below is indicative of the building’s architecture; note the combination of finished and natural ballusters above and below.
The Institute, opened in 1984, has had a series of harrowing times but appears now to be endowed and supported enough to reasonably insure its future. In the words of its website: Like a windstorm blowing through an old forest, the shock of the recent economic crisis “knocked down” many businesses, foundations, nonprofits and public agencies, including RTPI. Fortunately, with the help of committed friends and donors, we believe our soil remains healthy enough to nourish our recovery.
Our last visit exposed us to the life of Robert H. Jackson. But before I share him with you, here’s a bit of history about the building that holds the Robert H. Jackson Center. An ambitious Alonzo Kent came to Jamestown in 1832. Starting from nothing, he built an empire including merchandising, real estate, farming and banking. By 1858, he was able to build his Italianate, spare-no-expense mansion, the first brick building in Jamestown. After the death of Alonzo and his wife, the home was bought by his nephew, Alba Kent, who occupied it with his wealthy wife, Rose, for 24 years. She was the mother of Charles Wetmore, a prominent New York architect who remodeled the home for his mother and stepfather. In 1917, the home was purchased by the Scottish Rite Masonic Bodies. The Masons made many additional alterations; they connected the main house and carriage house and converted the carriage house into an auditorium. As a 33rd degree Mason, Robert Jackson visited the building many times. And in 2001, it was deeded to the Robert H. Jackson Center.
Born in 1892, Robert Jackson attended the Albany Law School for a year after high school and, after passing the New York State Bar, he became a prominent lawyer in Jamestown. In 1934, FDR appointed him general counsel for the IRS. Seven years later, after serving as both Solicitor General and Attorney General, be became an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. From 1945-46, he served as Chief Counsel for the United States at the first Nuremberg Trial. Returning to the Court, he served until his death in 1954, participating shortly before in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that overthrew Plessy v. Fergusen. Every Justice of the Supreme Court came to Jamestown for his funeral.
Today, we curious get to take two tours, one of the ground floor of the mansion, now the administrative, research and education center, and the other of the historical section, housed in the bridge building and the Carriage House, the site of many functions. Our guide, a retired (after 34 years) high school teacher in neighboring Frewsburg, where Jackson grew up, delineated the features of the mansion’s key rooms and then became impassioned when we moved on the Jackson history. A series of ten storyboards convey his life story, though not as eloquently as our host. Two are shown below. The lovely woman sitting in front of the first is a lifetime local who was on the tour with us. She’s 88 years old, and she lost her 90 year old husband in February. The two had repeatedly planned to visit the Jackson Center and never did. He was at D-Day and was an Army pilot who flew diversionary missions. Lacking half a credit when the fighting ended, her husband was part of the German Occupying Force for a year. The tales she told us were fascinating, as were those of our guide. Here’s a sampling of the Amos/Jackson trivia:
- In 1941, Jackson and his wife moved into Hickory Hill in McLean, which they later sold to JFK who then sold it to RFK when he became president. Robert and Ethel nearly doubled its size to hold their 12 children. (Lower left corner of 3rd picture below)
- Ray D’Addario was an Army photographer assigned to the Nuremburg trials. His work was black & white, with a minor exception. His mother sent him a roll of a brand new film called Kodacolor. Below is a famous shot he took with this film. Keep in mind that no flash could be used inside the trials, for fear of spooking people. Also keep in mind that this early version had a film speed of ASA 10, which meant it required either a tremendous amount of daylight or an extremely steady hand and no movement. The amazing thing about this picture is that Jackson, making his initial presentation, is in good focus. As expected, those closer and further away are soft. There is a major exhibit of D’Addario’s work at the Center. (4th pic below)
- As hinted above, Ulysses Grant was the first president to speak at Chautauqua. After its first season, the co-founders of the Institution were searching for notoriety. Reverend Vincent knew President Grant; he was pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Galena, Illinois, where Grant worshipped, and they corresponded during the War. Vincent prevailed upon Rev. Theodore Flood, pastor of the First M.E. Church of Jamestown to travel to Grant’s summer home in New Jersey to invite the President, and despite loathing to perform public oratory, he accepted the invitation. Prior to his speech, he was served a sumptuous lunch in Alonzo Kent’s dining room – which now bears his name.
- Alba Kent’s wife, Rose was a devout Christian Scientist. She funded their church diagonally across the street and had a tunnel to it from her home.
- In 2010, two copies of Gale Jarrow’s biography of Justice Jackson were sent to each of the nine Justices then sitting, as well as the two most recently retired. They were asked to keep one copy and return the other, autographed, to the Center. A perfect score of 11 resulted, with many including a testament along with the signature. (Last 2 pics below)
So how’s that for an ending? Amazing persons, amazing institutions and oh so many people dedicated to preventing their messages and history from disappearing. We have to chalk this up as another of our magnificent adventures. But . . . there’s always another to come.