Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lake Chautauqua, NY

The summer of 1942 was an important year in my family history. Going on a rumor of pretty girls and fun parties, my grandfather Carter Smith went to Lake Chautauqua for the first time. He bought a couple of guidebooks and fooled the man interviewing him that he, who had never been there before, could guide tourists around Chautuaqua Institution. And he did. That same summer, Tony Morris was vacationing at her grandmother's house like she had since 1926. They met and fell in love almost instantly. Without that sequence of events, it would not have come to be that Molly and I went to Lake Chautauqua for this fourth of July holiday weekend!

There must be something about the place, because it's also how my great-grandmother Lucille and my great-grandfather JR met. The houses they grew up vacationing in stand today (pictured below) and probably would be in the Smith Family still, if it weren't for a boating accident in 1938 that killed my great-grandfather.

And what single person wouldn't fall in love here? It's playground! A summer camp for adults and their families! Each week has a theme (this week was "Ethics in Government"). Congressmen, businessmen, scholars speak in the amphitheater at 10.45 am. The symphony or some musical entertainment, plays every evening at 8pm. During the day, you can take classes in art, music, and dance, attend other lectures, religious services, and visit the art galleries. Sound stuffy to you and too intellectual? It isn't! Enjoy swimming in the lake, boating, sports on any of the greens, or just take in a book.

It's by far one of the most idealic places I've been to – one of those places that you dream up – but don't think it exists. With white picket fences, blooming hydrangeas, Victorian architecture, American flags flying high, children riding their bikes and crystal clear lake, it's a real romantic American way of life.

Molly had a blast! I took her to a music class, on a boat ride, a swim in the lake, endless walks and time at the playground. She even attended the 4th of July Symphony performance! We had quality family time with my grandfather, Aunt Sue & Uncle Jeff, and my parents. The only thing missing was Mike – who stayed behind to work.

At night, I listened to stories of family history, told by my grandfather. I heard of my great-great-great grandmother's trip to London in the late 1800's. Would you believe that he has the letters she wrote to him in his basement! He's also kept the letters that he and my grandmother exchanged in 1945-1947 while he was in the field service. We talked about how letter writing is a dying art form and I promised I would try to revive it. As a thank-you to my grandfather, who hosted us all weekend long and still writes letters, I am sending off a custom stamp today.

What did you do for the 4th of July?


  1. How fun! I've lived in Western NY almost all of my life and have ashamedly never been to Chautauqua Lake. I always tell my husband we should drive down there for a weekend but we never seem to make it. What a great story about your grandparents, too!

  2. What a wonderful post! Am going to Chautauqua tomorrow for week 3, only my 3rd trip.

    I went up there for the first time in 2009 for 3 days, taking advantage of a special promotion offered by the hotel. On the last morning at breakfast, a man said to me "you'll be back." He was right.