History of Lily Dale
The History of Lily Dale Camp is one of courage, stamina and dedication. It all began in the year 1844 – preceding the Hydesville manifestations by the Fox sisters. In the small village of Laona, a few miles from Lily Dale, Dr. Moran (mesmerist from Vermont) was invited by William Johnson, to lecture before a group of interested people. Mr. Johnson the son of a minister was the father of Marion Skidmore who became a great leader for Spiritualism at Lily Dale. At that time Jeremiah carter, physically enfeebled, had sought to be treated by Dr. Moran. Unfortunately Dr. Moran had to leave before such could be applied. Mr. Johnson suggested that they themselves try the experiments, demonstrated by the Vermont doctor. The results were startling. Mr. Carter became entranced. An entity to be a Dr. Hedges spoke to the people present – giving messages from spirit and demonstrating the laying on of hands.
The advent of the Hydesville manifestations strengthened the purpose of the group and they termed themselves Spiritualist and Liberals. The group met regularly to discuss their beliefs and practice their healing and mediumship. Many great speakers and mediums had their early beginnings in Laona. In 1855 the First Spiritualist Society of Laona was formed.
In 1873 Willard Alden owned a good size farm (now known as the Leolyn Hotel and woods) just outside the gates of Lily Dale. Jeremiah Carter insisted that spirit voices kept continuously urging him to go to Alden’s farm and start a camp meeting. This was accomplished and the group met there for summer picnics and camp meetings. After Mr. Alden’s transition, his heirs became dissatisfied with financial arrangements, so the board in 1879 decided to purchase land and move their location. Twenty acres of land was purchased from John Fisher at the price of $1845. This is now known as the Lily Dale Assembly.
Mrs. Amelia Colby was asked to name the camp. Her guide gave her the name of Cassadaga Lake Free Association. In 1903 the name was changed to The City Of Light and in 1906, The Lily Dale Assembly: named for the abundance of lilies on the lake.
Men and women worked tirelessly side-by-side, felling trees, clearing brush and making winding paths through the forest. The first service was held at Lily Dale under a cradle of boughs known as The Bough House, fashioned from entwining branches and flowers. Rough-hewn logs were used for benches.
The first speaker at Lily Dale was Elizabeth Lowe Watson. She was a dynamic speaker, a liberal and suffragette.
Financial problems were experienced from the early beginning of the camp, this acted strangely enough, not as a deterrent, but as a challenge to go forward and work harder towards the anticipated goal. The first order of business of the camp was the discussion of building a permanent Auditorium. This was accomplished in 1883, and later remolded in 1901. The seating capacity was twelve hundred. There has been many times during Lily Dale’s history that people stood three deep outside the auditorium in order to hear the lecture.
Preceding the auditorium in 1881, a Lyceum was formed with the children meeting in a tent. They felt that training of the young was important. In 1928 the Andrew Jackson Davis building for the Lyceum was built and gifted to Lily Dale by Mrs. M. Cadwallader, the editor of “The Progressive Thinker.”
In 1895 the Alden House was purchased by Mrs. Abby Louise Pettengill and renamed The Leolyn after her granddaughter. The Assembly then purchased the Leolyn from Mrs. Pettengill.
A hotel was built in 1880. It originally was the horse barn. It is known as a “hung suspension building.” When additional floors were needed each floor was raised and the new additions placed underneath. It was known as the Grand Hotel – today it is the Maplewood Hotel.
Today the Maplewood Hotel stands serenely, her old time charm still intact, overlooking the lake enticing the occupants to relax on its wide porch, and watch the ducks and swans, glide by. Many philosophical subjects have been debated and aired on the Maplewood porch. Bit by bit these sturdy pioneers plodded forward – roads were built, sewers installed, lights became a reality. The first Library was held in a tent in the park in 1886. Today it stands proudly as the Marion Skidmore Library housing thousands of the finest books on Spiritualism.
The Assembly Hall, famous for it’s thought exchange and class work came into being in 1888, the old school building in 1890. The Octagon Building was reserved for class, arts and the teaching of proper dancing. It housed the Junior League for years then became the “mediums’ building. The beautiful Healing Temple was built by Louis Vosberg at the direction of T.J. Kelly’s guide. This National Missionary was one of the most outstanding mediums that has served the Lily Dale platform. Incidentally, the famous actress Mae West, a friend of Jack Kelly visited Lily Dale at his invitation.
The original fox Cottage was moved from Hydesville, New York, a gift from Benjamin Bartlett of Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania and placed at Lily Dale in 1915. Tragically the cottage burned to the ground early morning in 1955. Fortunately the Peddler’s trunk and family Bible were saved.
In 1898 Lily Dale had it’s own newspaper, The Sunflower. The editor was William Bach, who with his wife Evielena erected the Sunflower Pagoda. The United States Government in 1888 established the Lily Dale Post Office ensuring the inhabitants not only the convenience of it’s service but recognizing Lily Dale on the map.
From its lowly beginning of twenty acres, Lily Dale now owns approximately one hundred sixty acres.
Lily Dale has a splendid volunteer fire department. These men and women give freely of their time and efforts to protect the camp.
Truly Lily Dale lived up to that early promise. Thirty thousand people come through the gates each year. Lily Dale has comforted the bereaved, demonstrated the truth of immortality, and shown others a way of life known as the Religion of Spiritualism.
All of the people who visited Lily Dale contributed to “Beautiful Lily Dale.”
It is a worn cliché that the first hundred years are the hardest. If that is so, then Lily Dale has truly weathered the storms and kept the faith, knowing that the guiding light has been, and forever will be “the Eternal Light of Spirit.”