No Daisies, But Plenty of Fresh Breezes, Marvelous Sunsets and First-Class Entertainment at the Chautauqua on Lake Erie

A rare wildflower provided the inspiration for our first vacation of the summer.

Hope Taft introduced us to the bright yellow daisy named for the town of Lakeside in northwest Ohio when she included this endangered species in the alvar rock garden at the Ohio Governor’s Residence. In fact, the Lakeside daisy is so rare that it’s found in only two places (the other is in Ontario). So we decided to spend a few days at Lakeside, see the daisy’s native environment, and experience the “Chautauqua on Lake Erie” for ourselves.

The Lakeside pavilion, with the ubiquitous golf carts used for transportation at Lakeside

Although the daisy had already made its appearance this year, Lakeside was in full bloom during the third week of its 2011 summer season.

Located on the Marblehead Peninsula on the southwestern shores of Lake Erie, Lakeside was one of the first communities founded as part of the American Chautauqua movement, where summertime public lectures and entertainment took place either outdoors or under a temporary tent. While it originally started as a Methodist revival meeting in 1875, Lakeside developed into a summertime center of recreational pursuits, cultural enrichment and lifelong learning of both a religious and a secular nature. Amelia Earhart, Sgt. Alvin York, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ray Charles, Shirley Jones, Susan B. Anthony, Cyd Charisse, Rutherford B. Hayes, Ulysses S. Grant and William McKinley are among those who have visited, spoken or performed at Lakeside.

“Small Change,” my favorite Lakeside cottage

While many Lakeside regulars own or rent cottages, we stayed at the Hotel Lakeside, a restored Victorian building that’s rightfully earned a place – along with Lakeside itself – on the National Register of Historic Places. With a lovely wraparound porch (it was screened in with the bridge-playing proceeds earned by 19th century women), a nice restaurant, and plenty of wicker furniture and antiques from Lakeside cottages for furnishings, we didn’t even miss not having a television for a couple of days.

The mosaic chimney at “Small Change”

While its waterfront location provided a picturesque, relaxing respite from the routine, its non-stop lineup of activities appealed to travelers like me who enjoy making the most of their vacation days. Susan Glaser, travel editor of The Plain Dealer, suggested destinations to visit in Ohio during a meeting of the Lakeside Women’s Club. At the restored Lakeside train station, three ladies who summer at Lakeside hosted a terrific workshop for making an herbal sleep pillow. We toured Lakeside’s gardens, tried Toft’s Black Cherry, Red Velvet Rush and Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream flavors, and watched a handful of teenagers compete to eat the most hot dogs. During the weekly community picnic at Perry Park, Cindy and Ken joined us and hundreds of other families for more hot dogs and standard summertime fare. Evening entertainment at Hoover Auditorium included terrific performances by the Kenya Safari Acrobats, who limbo-danced, balanced, contorted, and hurled themselves across the stage, and the Good Lovelies, a Canadian folk-pop trio whose lovely voices sang old stand-bys and new compositions they wrote themselves.

Historic postcards of Hoover Auditorium and the Lakeside shuffleboard court, at the Lakeside Archives

During our last morning at Lakeside, I joined about 50 others for yoga.  Then, we boarded a tram for a narrated ride through the streets of Lakeside, where a lifelong Lakesider shared stories about her community’s history and the development of architectural styles at Lakeside, from tents on wooden platforms and showboat-style homes to Spanish Colonial structures and a modern-day stone castle.  I visited the Heritage Hall Museum and Lakeside Archives, where a fellow archivist was cataloging historic Lakeside postcards.  We also watched children and adults alike take classes in origami-making and rock-painting at the Rhein Center for the Arts.

Another favorite Lakeside cottage, owned by a family from Westerville

At the end of our tram tour, our guide gave us a copy of a 1904 advertising brochure for Lakeside that still holds true today. “A place for teachers, ministers, lawyers, doctors; for all weary brain-workers to rest,” this “healthy summer home” provides “fresh breezes from lake and bay and plenty of air and space.” It also offers “entertainments and concerts for variety and amusement,” “lessons and lectures by first-class talent,” “distant islands, passing ships and marvelous sunsets,” “no saloons, no objectionable amusements” and “living as cheap as home.” I hope we’ll go back before the season ends!

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