Chautauqua is the hidden New York vacation town you’ve never heard of

This article is reprinted with permission from The escape house, a newsletter for second home owners and those who want to become one. Subscribe to here. © 2022. All rights reserved.

In rural southwest New York State there is a small lake town called Chautauqua. Less than 200 people live there all year round. At the beginning of summer, when vacation home owners and their Airbnb ABNB,
guests arrive, the population swells to over 10,000. During the high season of July and August, the lakeside town hosts over 100,000 people, most of whom come to take part in an annual gathering of cultural, artistic, recreational and interfaith spiritual events.

Never heard of Chautauqua? You’re not alone. It has been described as a “hidden utopia” and “cultural oasis” tucked away in one of the most rural corners of the Northeast. Chautauqua is an Iroquoian word meaning “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together”, describing the shape of the lake. Molly Cuddy from The Escape Home has the perspective.

A mecca for art and culture

The city is best known for being the home of the Chautauqua Institution, which hosts the Summer Assembly, bringing together headliners from around the world to discuss a variety of topical issues.

The institution’s meetings “encourage conversation and encourage reflection on achievement and creativity, curiosity and values,” says Tom Becker, who served as president of the Chautauqua Institution for 13 years before retiring in 2016. “It’s an odd balance between intensity and relaxation. There really is nothing else like it in the whole world.”

Founded in 1874, the Chautauqua Institution is credited with creating the concept of adult education and blending holiday education in a rural setting with entertainment, culture and politics. The concept traveled across the country and became known as the “Chautauqua Movement”.

A rust belt favorite is growing in popularity

In recent decades, however, the Lake Resort Community has been little known outside of Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, its closest metropolitan neighbors.

Stephanie Novinc, who lives in Cleveland, has been visiting the area since 1967.

“As a kid, my parents and a lot of other people who lived in our area had campers, permanent campers, at a place called Camp Chautauqua,” she says. “In the beginning it was very small and it grew and grew and grew.”

In recent years, Chautauqua has attracted the attention of a variety of visitors and second-home buyers, including snowbirds looking to escape the sweltering summer heat of Florida and Arizona. Some holiday home owners are even from Australia and South Africa, usually because they have a connection to the facility or because they have a friend or family member involved with the facility.

But the largest new group of vacation home buyers is from New York City. “It’s being discovered by New Yorkers because they see value,” says Karen Goodell, a real estate agent with ERA Team VP who has been selling homes in Chautauqua for 40 years. Like a growing number of her clients, Goodall lives in New York City and spends the summers in Chautauqua.

Family friendly fun

The “value” Goodell is referring to includes the ability to purchase an admission pass or ticket that provides access to hundreds of events, classes, performances and recreational activities during the institution’s nine-week summer convention. This summer, a one-week Gate Pass is $550 for those ages 26 and older and $185 for those ages 13-25. The Gate Pass allows individuals to attend almost any event the institution has to offer. There are programs for adults and children. “It’s the best deal there is,” says Goodell.

“If your grandparents and your parents and your siblings and nieces and nephews were all vacationing somewhere. This would be a place where you all would have [enjoyable] experiences,” says Becker.

“It’s extreme, extremely family-oriented and I like that about it,” agreed Novinc. “It’s just down-to-earth fun.”

In the summer of 2020, with Covid-19 precautions crippling much of the economy, the institution canceled its summer events for the first time since its inception. Last summer, the facility was about 60% occupied.

Chautauqua hopes the program will be back in full swing this summer. The calendar of events already includes performances by singer Sheryl Crow and the Dance Theater of Harlem; and talks by Washington Post author and columnist Fareed Zakaria and Constanze Stelzenmüller, transatlantic foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. Both will be part of a lecture series entitled “What Should be America’s Role in the World?”.

Chautauqua real estate: something for everyone

Most homes in Chautauqua cost between $500,000 and $700,000, but prices for homes on Chautauqua Lake, which is 19 miles long and has 41 miles of lakefront, are significantly higher. Last year, lakeside homes sold for between $1.5 million and $3 million, Goodell says. Condos, which are also available, are far more affordable, with many starting in the $150,000 to $250,000 range.

Some vacationers only stay a few weeks at a time, others the whole summer. But Goodell suspects some homeowners and renters could stay for longer periods due to lax work-from-home policies due to Covid-19. “It was more accepted as an operating method,” says Goodell. “I truly believe that Chautauqua and other communities like ours will benefit from this new way of working.”

This article is reprinted with permission from The escape house, a newsletter for second home owners and those who want to become one. Subscribe to here. © 2022. All rights reserved. Chautauqua is the hidden New York vacation town you’ve never heard of

Brian Lowry

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