Lily Dale Now and Then

     Lily Dale is the oldest community dedicated to the practice of the Spiritualist Religion. The basic tenant of Spiritualism is the continuity of life after death. The living can communicate with the dead and the dead communicate with the living.

      A small, gated bucolic village of Victorian homes in the Western end of New York State the “Dale” is nestled on the West side by Upper Cassadaga Lake and to the East and South by 100 acres of woodlands. Lily Dale projects the feeling of walking back in time, as the streets are narrow originally made for the horse and buggy.

      Founded in 1879 by Spiritualists, Free Thinkers and Liberals a village was planned for the purpose of holding summer camp meetings for the study, practice and exchange of philosophical ideas. The Woman’s Suffrage movement soon had a strong platform at Lily Dale. Susan B. Anthony, Reverend Anna Shaw and Isabella Beecher Hooker were regular speakers. Within a short period of time a city of tents became an organized village of streets with Victorian houses and 40 families living on the property year round.

     Lily Dale did not have any one founder and Lily Dale did not just happen overnight. It all began in the year 1844 – preceding the Hydesville manifestations by the Fox Sisters. In the village of Laona, William Johnson invited Dr. Moran a mesmerist from Vermont, 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 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 Spiritualists, Liberals and Free Thinkers. 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 who owned a farm and stagecoach stop along the east banks of the Cassadaga Lakes had a visit from Jeremiah Carter who insisted that spirit voices kept continuously urging him to go to Alden’s farm and start a camp meeting. This was agreed upon with Mr. Alden and the group met there for summer picnics and camp meetings. [this area is now known as the Leolyn Hotel and Woods] After Mr. Alden’s transition, his heirs became dissatisfied with financial arrangements, so the Spiritualists in 1879 decided to purchase land and move their location. Twenty acres of land was purchased adjacent to the Alden farm from John Fisher at the price of $1845. Mrs. Amelia Colby was asked to name the camp. Her spirit 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 grounds were surveyed for lots. No lot was to be sold outright; lots were leased for 99 years or rented for the season. The dedication 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 remodeled 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 by Thomas and Tillie Lees 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 a group of prominent spiritualists.  In 1894 the Alden House was purchased by Mrs. Abby Louise Pettingill and renamed The Leolyn after her granddaughter. The Assembly later purchased the Leolyn from Mrs. Pettingill.

      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 built underneath. It was known as the Grand Hotel and renamed the Maplewood Hotel in 1903.

      Today the Maplewood Hotel stands serenely, the 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. Then in 1888 was moved to the second floor of what is now named Assembly Hall. Today it stands proudly as the Marion Skidmore Library on Cottage Row 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 school building was erected in 1890 and when all schools were consolidated in 1937 it was used for the Community Club. The school building now houses the largest collection of spiritualist memorabilia in America. The Octagon Building was also built in 1890 and was reserved for classes, arts and the teaching of proper dancing.  It housed the Junior League for years then became the mediums league building. The Healing Temple was built and financed by Louis Vosberg at the direction of T.J. Kelly’s spirit guide. This National Missionary was one of the most outstanding mediums that served the Lily Dale platform. Incidentally, the famous actress Mae West, a friend of Jack Kelly visited Lily Dale several times 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 in the early morning of September 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 more then one hundred sixty acres. Lily Dale has a splendid volunteer Fire Department and E.M.T. group. These men and women give freely of their time and efforts to protect the camp.Beyond doubt Lily Dale has lived up to that early promise. The roots of Lily Dale stand firmly in the past upholding spiritualist philosophies and always keeping it’s eye on the future. Lily Dale is a place for individuals to discover themselves and join with others who are on the same path. Lily Dale has comforted the bereaved, demonstrated the truth of immortality, and shown others a way of life known as the Religion of Spiritualism.

      A modest gate fee is charged during the summer “camp” months of July and August. This has been the tradition for over one hundred years.  Activities include workshops for new age ideas, healing techniques, basic Spiritualism classes, ghost walks and ‘sweat lodge” etc. etc. Weekend Auditorium workshops are held by well-known personalities, just to mention a few are James Van Praagh, Lisa Williams, Michelle Whitedove and “The Ghost Hunters”. For many years the Tibetan Monks have attended during opening week.

      Daily outside Medium readings are held free to the public at the Inspiration Stump and Forest Temple areas. The Museum displays Spiritualism’s memorabilia and is also free of charge. For the children there is a playground and a “fairy trail” to enjoy. There are two hotels, guesthouses, places to eat and shop and a camping area for reservation. Mediums give private readings year round or seasonally. Advance reservations are suggested and a fee is charged for the readings. All residents are not practicing Mediums so look for the Mediums sign at the front of the house.  716-595-8721

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