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NYS Historic
Arts & Culture, Education, Event, Site
4734 NY-394, Mayville, NY 14757, USA
42.20773, -79.46935
Grant Recipient
Chautauqua Institution
Historic Marker




In August 1874, the first Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly was held over the course of two weeks in the town of Chautauqua, New York. The Chautauqua Assembly invited Sunday school teachers from any Christian denomination to attend classes and lectures on the study and teaching of the Bible. In addition to the educational events, attendees participated in worship and recreational activities in the form of music concerts, fireworks, humorous talks, and boating excursions on Chautauqua Lake. The Chautauqua Assembly attracted attendees from all over New York State, in addition to several other states and Canada. Prior to the event, an advertisement ran in the July 24, 1874 edition of the Buffalo Courier that put the rate of admission at twenty cents for one day’s admission and one dollar for a season ticket. The advertisement noted that the season ticket gave admission to all classes, lectures, exercises, and entertainments to take place during the two-week event.

A correspondent for the Buffalo Courier reported on the close of the first Chautauqua Assembly in the August 19, 1874 edition of the paper:

“To Dr. J. H. Vincent is due the credit of organizing the first Sunday-school Institute that was ever held in this country, and he was the first to conceive the idea of calling together this Assembly. It was brought to his mind by a brief visit made to this beautiful grove about one year ago. He determined to take the necessary steps to accomplish what has been so pleasant and profitable to all who have enjoyed these weeks of pleasure, recreation and thorough study. To him all credit is due, and thousands will go hence loving him dearly because of the priceless opportunities he has been instrumental in giving them. Full $15,000 has been expended in accomplishing the result.”

The Buffalo Courier correspondent concluded that:

“Accommodations will be provided next year for 25,000 persons. There are to be two capacious steamers built the coming winter, we understand, and nothing will be lacking to make it such a meeting as will call together the energetic workers of the world.”

Methodist Episcopal bishop Dr. John H. Vincent founded the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly with Lewis Miller a successful businessman and philanthropist. In 1886, Vincent wrote in his book, The Chautauqua Movement that they had started the assembly as an alternative schooling program for those individuals who were no longer attending school or college:

“It is a school for people out of school who can no longer attend school, – a college for one’s own home; and leads to the dedication of everyday life to educational purposes.”

The Chautauqua Assembly continued to be held annually in the summer months, eventually spanning several weeks and attracting people from all over the country to Chautauqua Lake. It is thought to have inspired an educational movement that spawned similar “Chautauquas” all over the world and resulted in the establishment of the International Chautauqua Alliance in 1899.

The July 26, 1914 edition of the New York Press ran the article, “What the Chautauqua Assembly Has Accomplished in Forty Years” which concluded:

“That it persists after four decades and bids fair to persist indefinitely is due not only to the broad humanness of the idea but to the intelligent support it has received from the foremost men in America. Chautauquans know that every man and woman in the country who has anything to say will appear sooner or later on the Chautauqua platform.”

In 1902, the name was officially changed from the Chautauqua Assembly to the Chautauqua Institution. In 1973, the Chautauqua Institution Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1989, was designated a National Historic Landmark. As of 2022, the Chautauqua Institution continues to hold its annual summer educational gathering, with public events covering a variety of religious, social, and political issues, along with academic subjects, music, and art.