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The Oregon Trail

One of the few utopian-minded 19th-century communities to survive to the present day, Chautauqua (pop. 4,464) is an idyllic 750-acre Victorian village of quaint pastel cottages, tidy flower gardens, and pedestrian-friendly streets—a genteel model of middle-class, small-town civilization. Chautauqua was founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller, inventor Thomas Edison’s father-in-law. It was established as a summer training ground for Methodist Sunday school teachers and is now preserved as a nonprofit, nonsectarian cooperative foundation. In the first decades of the 20th century, Chautauqua had an immeasurable effect on American culture, sponsoring correspondence courses and cross-country lecture tours that brought liberal arts education to the masses, especially in the rural Midwest.

Chautauqua, located along Hwy-394 about 11 miles south of Westfield on US-20 (off I-90 exit 60), has hardly changed since its heyday and still welcomes all comers to its summer-long series of lectures and concerts. Though the emphasis is on education, Chautauqua is not entirely academic: In between broadening their minds, visitors can relax on the white-sand beaches that line the lakeshore. Day visitors to Chautauqua (716/357-6250) have to pay an admission fee ($41 morning and afternoon) and pass through a set of ancient turnstiles, as if entering a mind-improving amusement park. Others come for a week or two, renting a cottage or staying at the wonderful old Athenaeum Hotel (800/821-1881 or 716/357-4444, $270 and up, with all meals included), built in 1881.

For further information, or to request a schedule of Chautauqua classes, lectures, and events, call 800/836-2787.

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