When two hundred years from now the historian of "The United States is the Period from 1850 to 1900," analyzes the customs of the times, he will tell how "at the opening of this period began that social begira, afterward an established custom, by which people of all conditions and classes left their their homes in the summer months for a longer or shorter time, according to cash and circumstances, to indulge their love for sports, society, or leisure, at places known as summer, resorts." I imagine he will go on to classify these resorts, to analyze the characteristics of each and to note what class of people and variety of taste led to its establishment. Indeed, already the profile, complexion, and style of multitudes of these places have become so distinctive that one of our most captivating social historians, Charles Dudley Warner, has done something of this kind, seizing on striking points for the coloring to a pretty love story.
The individuality of summer resorts depends not on the natural surroundings--Nature, of course, must have the credit of furnishing a background, but after that she is decidedly a secondary consideration--but on the manners and tastes of the people who have adopted them. The habitués make them what they will giving to each its charms, its oddities, its peculiar amusements, and its times for outgoing and incoming. The artist at any one of them can find a sketch book full of " types" and the novelist a note-book of "materials", and "local color." Thousands of tourists, students, and excursionists may come and go at any one of these places and yet make no impression on their real life. They are only the audience. The actors are those who "come every summer." Every class and grade of society is developing a summer resort to harmonize with its peculiar tastes and within the limits of its peculiar circumstances; and at which it will find for a short period of the year those things which it most enjoys.
Among the resorts which this future historian will describe as the type of a large number of widely scattered and liberally patronized places will be Chautauqua. To-day the place is new and forming. It has no pedigree like Newport and Saratoga and Richfield Springs. It is fresh and young, with all the buoyancy and vivacity of the West to which it belongs.
Nature did her best with the profile: Chautauqua Lake lies nearly thirteen hundred feet above the Atlantic level on what is known as Chautauqua ridge, a foot-hill of the Appalachians, just at that point in southwestern New York state where the land begins its ambitious vaultings toward the higher things, reached at last in the mountains of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Brown Erie is but nine miles from the head of the lake, but it lies some seven hundred thirty feet lower.
The county in the center of which the lake lies is pleasant to eyes which love thrift, tidiness, and plenty of room. The south-western corner of New York state is a famous farming land; its fields ate broad and highly cultivated; its timber tracts of maple, beach, elm, chestnut, cucumber, pine, and hemlock are abundant and carefully preserved. Trim farm-houses flanked by ample barns dot the landscape whose face is seamed by the zigzag lines of rail fences, varied here and there by one of stumps, whose writhing roots cut fantastic figures against the sky.
The towns are healthy, pleasant, and prosperous. No rush of speculation has reached them yet, though gas and petroleum are both found at no very great distance. It is through portals of comfort, peace, and cheer, that the traveler reaches Chautauqua.
The railway entrance is easy and direct from all points north and south, east and west. The traveler may step from the railway coach at Mayville; at the head of the lake, to the steamer dock; or going to Jamestown at the opposite end, he will be within a five minutes' ride of the lake; or at Lakewood farther up; within an even shorter distance. There is certainly no difficulty in getting to Chautauqua; and once there one finds, what? A long; sinuous, ribbon-like lake gracefully stretched in a hammock of hillsides, the climax of the picture of pleasantness through which he has been traveling.
Chautauqua has none of the conventional lake shape. It makes no pretense to equalizing its length and breadth; twenty miles long with an average breadth of two miles, it is narrow here, broad there, now it contracts into a mere passage, again bulges into a broad and sweeping sheet, finally finding an outlet in a tortuous, narrow stream walled by a tangled mass of forest verdure. The rolling banks in which it swings are, from end to end of the lake, unvarying in their beauty. No harsh lines, desolate tracts, or ragged bluffs mar the evenness of the scenery. Nor is it monotonous. Woodland, pasture, lawn, and marsh are combined in the full uplands and undulating shores. The whole effect is of continual variety, though always of peace and gracious plenty.
The climate is such as high elevation, pure water, and well-drained soil must always produce. There is a constant breeze day and night. The blessed possibility of being able to "keep cool" even in dog-days is a high compliment to any locality south of the British possessions, but it is a Chautauqua possibility. The water conceals neither malaria nor typhus. The soil breeds no poisons. It is clean and healthy and vigorous from one end of the lake to the other.
The height and consequent clearness of the air produce most charming atmospheric effects in the scenery of the lake. On days of peculiar clearness the shores and every object on them are brought seemingly close up to the observer. The opposite bank seems scarcely a steamer's length away, and every tree in the view is distinct. Again the haze dims and distances, though rarely hides, the landscape. It softens angularities and tones down the vivid green, giving the view an exquisite tenderness and charm.
At the head of the lake lies Mayville, a town not unknown to history. When the French in the decade from 1754-'60 were laying roads and building forts through the country skirting the Great Lakes, they laid a highway from Mayville to Westfield, connecting Chautauqua and Lake Erie. The site of the town, now the county seat of Chautauqua County, was then marked out. It is a sleepy, sunny, lovely place, to which care and excitement both seem foreign. In summer its cottages and hotels are alive with pleasant people.
At the end of the "Outlet," as the narrow month of the lake is called, is a-clattering, go-a-head little city of some sixteen thousand people, spruce in its long streets of smartly painted Queen Annes, and trim lawns. There is factory upon factory in Jamestown, alpaca, piano, cutlery, furniture of all sorts, carpets, and so on. The southern New York oil regions are at its gates giving it an added prosperity. Extra feathers and furbelows for the summer visitor come from Jamestown, and the guest who wants to relieve the calm and quiet of his life at the lake hotels goes there to visit the "works" and to shop.
Communication between the head and foot of the lake has always been by steamer; the trip up and down being a most charming one-but what does the capitalist respect? Certainly not a leisurely way of doing things. A railway is building from Jamestown to Mayville along the side of the lake and by the opening of the season of '87 the tourist can reach any point by rail. On either side of the water are clusters of summer.homes and hotels. Point Chautauqua, Dewittville, Whiteside, Bemis Point, and Griffith's are the leading eastern stopping points; and on the west are Lakewood and Chautauqua.
The homelike comfort and "good time" air, of all these are very decided. People live leisurely and with more regard for health, enjoyment, and rest, than for display, excitement, and noise. The amusements combine those incident to lake and country life. The bathing is good and especially among the children very general. Rowing and fishing are the favorite sports. From twilight until dark the placid lake is sprinkled with boating parties and the air resounds with merriment and song. Pickerel trolling is fashionable in the morning, and near the outlet "turtle hunts" are productive of much frolic if not of game. The country about Chautauqua is pleasant for driving, and carriage and bicycle parties are popular. There are not a few "points of interest" to visit: Panama Rocks for those who enjoy rugged scenery and a dip into geological formations: Westfield and Lake Erie for lovers of a pretty town and historic associations, and Niagara for a bona fide railway excursion.
The point which has developed the most characteristic summer life and which has given the lake a national reputation is Chautauqua. "Fair Point" as its formerly known, is a jut of land running out into the lake and sweeping back on either side in full rounded, graceful curves. Prowl the beach the land swells gradually upward. A grove of native trees clothes it to the water's edge. Chautauqua is about four miles from the head of the lake and sixteen miles from Jamestown. A tract of one hundred sixty-five acres (the original grounds have been enlarged the present season by a purchase of thirty-five acres) is owned by the Chautauqua Association. This land is laid out in building lots, parks, tennis courts, promenades, drives, and play grounds. Cottage life prevails, hundreds of pretty and fantastic cottages lining the streets. A hotel of noble proportions accommodates those guests who desire the attention and cuisine of hotel life. Electric lights, water works, and other modern conveniences have been introduced. There are shops and markets and garbage- men and policemen; in fact during the summer months Chautauqua is a city.
The observer at first glance would decide it to be simply a pretty, healthy, and prosperous summer resort, but closer inspection shows that the ambition of the place is to develop an unusual meaning out of the word pleasure. The association under whom the resort was opened and who have directed its course are endeavoring to make recreation out of mental activity, intellectual fellowship, and moral sympathies as well as from out door life, sports, and idleness. The very public buildings show the intellectual bent of the place. At a central point an amphitheater seating over five thousand people and furnished with rostrum, choir gallery, and pipe organ, is provided for lectures, concerts, and entertainments; numerous smaller buildings are used for lectures by specialists. A museum, many models, and class rooms show that students abound. In the announcements which the association make of the resort, the lecture and concert are ranked ahead of the attractions of the lake, and the class room and models are advertised before the fishing and tennis grounds. The particular provisions for carrying out the plan are an eight weeks course of popular lectures and music, an assembly in which Bible study is conducted by scholars and specialists in a variety of grades suited to the needs of every body from the child to the college-bred theologian, schools for those who want a summer course of solid study, lectures and drills in methods for teachers, and classes for all those members of the various departments of the Chautauqua University, who would add a summer session to the work of the year done at home. In fact the bright cottages, gay parks, and many amusements are mingled with the outfit of a university, and the mixture is not incongruous.
The history of Chautauqua, its transformation from a wilderness to a camp meeting ground, from a camp-meeting to an assembly ground, from an assembly to the summer home of the Chautauqua University is a study familiar to readers of these pages. It is a story pleasant to read. Good and wise men have put time, thought self-denial, and energy into Chautauqua, and so great is their enthusiasm-and devotion that they declare the work both of the institution and the place to be but begun. Faith in the organization and sympathy with its ambitions have led many hundreds of people to adopt it as summer home, and time only strengthens their faith and sympathy.
To combine work and play in this unusual way requires vigorous and decided qualities, and results in original and striking features. One of the first traits of the place is its energy. The arrangement of the lectures and classes for the summer meetings, a most stupendous piece of planning and execution, is an example of this quality. It fits into everybody's needs. It is never dull, always popular, timely, and useful. In the schools the best talent is employed, on the platform brilliant lecturers, and for concerts and entertainments the best musical organizations in the country. Nothing but breadth, study, and energy could put together and secure the variety and character of entertainment for which Chautauqua is becoming famous.
This trait crops out in the material aspect of things, in the improvements, the enlargement, and beautifying which go on from year to year. In March of the present year a disastrous fire burned some fifty cottages, leaving a black and desolate spot. The conflagration was immediately turned to account. The grounds at this point were overcrowded, and the streets narrow; the management bought up all of the lots in the market, adding fully half of the burnt district to a neighboring park and broadening the adjoining streets. This generous policy was like a tonic to the dejected lot owners who at once began to rebuild the cottages in a much finer style than before. This season has also seen the erection of a spacious and handsome building for the accommodation of the summer session of the College of Liberal Arts, providing every convenience for students; the undertaking of an engineering work by which a beach of at least twenty-five feet in width is to be reclaimed from the lake and turned into a handsome drive; drafting of plans for an arcade where all shops will be gathered under one roof and decided improvements in the parks and drives.
The people are active. It is a theory of Chautauqua life, so the observer would say, that it is not good form to kill time, or to be anything but interested, and to relish work and sport. You will find them spending several hours every day at study and lectures, interspersing their work with bathing, boating, or calisthenics, in reckless disregard of the theorists who contend that to rest is to be idle; and some way they go home from their "outings" with not only rosy cheeks but with new energy and enthusiasm and, ideas.
The moral tone is high and sustained and produces some bracing features. There is a law and order clause in the Chautauqua charter and it is most rigorously insisted upon. Blue uniforms flit in and about its streets and their meaning is simply this: that everybody shall have a chance to sleep between eleven o'clock at night and six in the morning, if he wants to; that no profanity, unseemly conduct, or drunken insolence will be tolerated on the grounds; that the street vendor and agent will be allowed to disturb no one; that public meetings must not be interrupted by noise; that the unsophisticated need be in no fear of swindlers; and that an absolutely quiet Sabbath shall be insured.
There are multitudes of people in the land by whom such protection for themselves and families is appreciated. It is something to take children to a spot in which there is the certainty of no contamination from saloons or gambling. No boy can learn anything at Chautauqua of the fascination of the gaming table or of the wine glass. These things are as utterly away from him as if they never existed. Combine with this the fact that the entertainment of the children is carefully studied and the conditions become almost ideal for them.
A typical Sabbath arises from these regulations and the sympathetic co-operation of the people with them. Had Chautauqua done nothing else than give the world this model Sabbath, her work would furnish a key to a large share of social misery. She has proved that it is possible for a community of ten thousand people to be quiet, orderly, and Christian-like one day out of seven. There is not, as far as we know, another place in America where this demonstration has been made and has stood the test of time. The chief thought of the management is to make the summer contribute something to culture and moral life; the thought of the people is to avail themselves of the opportunity. The vacation time is thus devoted to indulging the finer tastes, and to securing some measure of those intellectual and moral pleasures which many thoughtful people are denied at home by reason of business or location.
It is an encouraging sign that so large a number of people are found eager to support a summer place whose avowed purpose is mental and moral culture. Not Chautauqua's success alone testifies that such a class exists in the country. Thirty-five or more similar resorts modeled after her and begun since she led the way fourteen years ago demonstrate the solid and popular basis on which Chautauqua is built.