Monday, September 8, 2014

More on Lakeside, Ohio's Chautauqua

I posted about 14 photos of Lakeside in yesterday's blog entry. Today I want to talk about the place a bit. Lakeside began as a Methodist camp on Lake Erie in 1873--141 years ago. It is located on the Marblehead Peninsula, between Sandusky and Port Clinton. From the lake shore you look across to Kelleys Island. If you look to the west you can see Catawba Point, Mouse Island, and South Bass Island, and a bit of Middle Bass Island. On South Bass you can see the gigantic Perry Monument in the village of Put-in-Bay. The place feels unique, very different from the lake shore of Cleveland, Mentor, Geneva, Ashtabula, or Buffalo. Maybe it feels a bit like the special environment of Presque Isle in Erie, Pennsylvania. Anyway, the Methodists found a very special place for this summer camp.

The community occupies about a square mile of land. There are 2 hotels, including the historic Hotel Lakeside, built around 1874, many Bed and Breakfasts and other type of lodging houses, and private homes. It is estimated that there are about 900 structures in the community. During the summer season, thousands of people will be present, living peacefully in community, with very little crime. I like to describe Lakeside as a "college campus for older adults." It is a model for what the world could be like, what our communities could be like.

Lakeside calls itself a "Chautauqua," very similar to the Chautauqua Institute in New York State. It has a busy 10-week summer season, filled with lectures, concerts, church services, and lots of recreational and cultural activities.

We first encountered Chautauqua by accident, some 20 years ago. We were camping at East Harbor State Park, about 8 miles from Lakeside, when a ferocious storm hit and scared us, soaking wet, out of the campground. We had heard about Lakeside and headed there to see if we could stay in the hotel. They allowed us to stay in a room, the kids sleeping on the floor. The next day we explored the place and fell in love with it. The children especially loved the free shuffleboard and the miniature golf, as well as the swimming and fishing pier. We all loved the concerts and remember fondly John McCutcheon and many other wonderful performers.

So many funny things have happened over the years--a lot of them involving Hotel Lakeside. Hotel Lakeside is very old, and nothing works exactly right. For years there was no air conditioning there. And in many small rooms there was no bathroom. The rooms have bathrooms now and air conditioning units (most of them), but a few rooms still don't have showers and you have to use a common shower room across the hall. We have been there 2 or 3 times when the electricity went out because of storms. And in our recent visit, there was no hot water at all in the hotel--so only cold showers or no showers. We love this quirkiness, this specialness. I know they want to modernize the hotel, but it's the imperfections that make it dear to us--along with the lake views, the beautiful fountain out front, the breezy porch, the antiques everywhere. There is no place I know of like Hotel Lakeside.

I love the whole place. It is one of Ohio and America's treasures, just like the original Chautauqua Institute in New York. Lakeside presents a vision of community as it could be, as it ought to be!

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