I’ve lost track of how many times Esteban and I have driven to Chautauqua — he grew up there, so we’ve gone back often to his beloved summer home.
The view from the dock Esteban’s family used to own. His grandma’s house once stood on the site of the pink-and-peach monstrosity you now see on the far left.
But no matter how many times I see this sign, the effect is always the same: My body relaxes, my mind seems more awake, and I feel happy.
Yet no matter how many times I go to Chautauqua, I still struggle to explain why it’s so special.
Chautauqua was founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent as “an educational experiment in out-of-school learning.” The echoes of that distant purpose still reverberate through the grounds today as more than 100,000 students and visitors gather each year for the nine-week season.
But there’s something deeper there for me — an intangible magic I can’t quite pin down. So, during my visit in August, I decided to walk every street of the 750-acre grounds to see whether the place itself would yield some answers.
Yes, I missed a few streets — which I’ll explain in a bit. But I also picked up some important clues into The Chautauqua Experience.
First, there’s of course Chautauqua Lake. It was (ridiculously) foggy during the week we were there, but it was still beautiful.
Then, there’s the architecture: Walking along the narrow streets — and among the charming cottages that line them — you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.
Another thing that makes Chautauqua unique is that, until recently, walking and biking were the only ways to get around (especially walking).