An Introduction to the Silver Lake Institute and an Explanation of its Current Status
The Institute and Asbury Camp began as a singular unit of organization and was originally chartered by the NYS Legislature in 1857 for religious camp meetings, having begun outdoor meetings in the previous decade.
When First chartered, the organization was known as: Genesee Conference (Methodist Episcopal) Camp Grounds.
Moved to Silver Lake in 1872 and was then known as: Camp Wesley of the Genesee Conference.
A national Chautauqua movement brought official teaching style change, but unofficial name change: Silver Lake Chautauqua Assembly.
Amendment to the charter officially changed the name to: Silver Lake Assembly of the Genesee Conference.
Shortly after the turn of the century there was another official name change. This time it became The Silver Lake Institute.
Following World War II, it gradually became clear that the organization was actually operating more like two separate organizations and had somewhat differing priorities. Eventually, the Camp side of the organization developed a different governing structure based on the accountability needs of the Annual Conference. Although they were operating mostly separately, they continued working cooperatively.
In 2013, The Upper NY Conference of the United Methodist Church, representing itself and Asbury Camp, requested an official legal separation from the Silver Lake Institute. This was because of legal liability concerns over the extensive properties and the ongoing franchise payment of $8,000 the Annual Conference was making to the Institute. The Institute then negotiated a charter revision with the Conference and had the charter restated and ordered by the State Supreme Court located in Warsaw, NY and submitted to the New York State Department(see "Charter" on menu above). Independence was thereby achieved in February of 2016.
Just a few minutes before 2 p.m. today, a joint petition from the Silver Lake Institute and the Upper New York Annual Conference was judicially approved in the State Supreme Court located in Warsaw, N.Y. The action brings to a close nearly three years of negotiations between the Institute and the Conference. Michael Kelly, Esq., of Kelly & Kelly, Perry, N.Y., represented the Institute.
Present for this historical event were: Bill Schaefer, SLI president (center); Pete Mairs, SLI vice president (to the right of Bill); Roger Covell, trustee and past president for many years (to the left of Bill); Greg Franklin, trustee and past Treasurer (on the left); SLI Attorney Kelly (on the right), and Kathy Schaefer who served as the event's photographer. Unable to be with us today and therefore not pictured were Trustee Don Weaver and Treasurer Craig Bateman.
Joint Renaissance: Asbury Camp, under the leadership of David Riddell, and the Institute under the leadership of W. Pete Mairs, experienced growth and development even before the legal separation. Still cooperating, the two "new" organizations began a joint endeavor, the Silver Lake Experience in 2015 under the leadership of Kathy Schaefer and David Riddell. This year, in 2017, the "Experience" is August 10-13 and is held every other year in August. Along with 81 thrilling workshops and musical guests, evening performances, hotel-level housing and delicious meals are a part of the accommodations.
Shown above is most likely the earliest lithograph of an American Camp Meeting originally published in London in 1819 .
HISTORY OF BERGEN CAMP MEETINGS: 1848 THROUGH 1869
1870-71 - No Meetings because of intolerable conduct;
then lawsuit to gain back control of the property.
1872 - Prep Work on the new Silver Lake location.
1873 - First Meeting at the new Silver Lake location.
From Notes by
Owen C. Baker and
Other Historical Sources
Lynda Durkee Owen Khan's History of the Silver Lake Institute, a compilation of the notes kept by Owen C. Baker (Bissell Cottage), begins with these two opening paragraphs:
"Camp meetings under Methodist leadership flourished in this country for more than a hundred years. Conferences, Districts and local churches held annual meetings in some favorite grove for a week or more. A rough platform was erected for the preachers. Sometimes a tent was raised over it. People came by families and camped in the grove during the period of the meeting. Several services were held each day. Many drove in for the day and evening.
"Conversions were numerous and great good resulted. People came expecting results and got them. Unconverted people came in large numbers. Naturally there were excesses and some disorder, but in the main, sound leadership and order prevailed. Our Bishops were often present in Conference and District meetings and were great evangelists."
The Bergen Campground became widely known and widely supported because it was acknowledged to be a campground of the Genesee District of the Genesee Conference "and was more nearly a Conference affair" than others. Conable, in his History of Genesee Conference,says, "A large camp meeting was held June 13-20, 1855, on the Genesee Camp Ground in Bergen. In accordance with a vote of the Genesee District meeting, Rev. Seymour Coleman of the Troy Conference was invited to attend....
"On the Sabbath ... there were thousands attending. It was a great meeting... The leading object of this meeting was the promotion of the work of entire holiness in the church. It was thought by some observing minds that many came too near falling into the error of taking holiness out of its proper connections; that in their zeal for entire holiness, they were almost impatient of hearing anything on the subject of repentance, justification, and regeneration."
Unidentified Camp Meeting in a non-descript location.
All travel to Camp Meetings was by horse, horse and wagon and horse and carriage since the Camp Meetings pre-date the NYS Canal System which didn't open until 1825 and the rail roads localized beginnings, opening in Bergen in 1836. By the time the Genesee Campgrounds in Bergen officially began their ministry in 1848, her connection with other "more distant" and urban areas was becoming more established by the NY Central and Hudson rail roads. The Bergen Campgrounds seems to have been unaffected directly by the opening of the railroad, or at least no mention of campers using it to get to the campgrounds was referenced.
AMERICAN SLAVERY SEPARATES THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Luther Lee is usually named with Orange Scott as the breakaways from the MEC to form the abolitionist Wesleyan Methodist Church.
FIVE years prior to the Genesee Campgrounds beginning, in 1843, a group of pastors and local churches left the Methodist Episcopal Church because of (1) their strong antislavery convictions, (2) their belief in the Holy Spirit's work of "perfection" in a person's lifetime ("Be ye perfect..."), and (3) their preference for a more democratic form of church government. They adopted the name of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, later changed to The Wesleyan Methodist Church in America.
FOUR years prior to the Genesee Campgrounds "official" beginning, the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) in 1844, already mired in controversy, became a victim of those same very strong antislavery disagreements which came to a head at the General Conference of 1844 in New York. The decisions made there convinced the southern states' M.E.s that they could no longer remain in communion with the northern church. Representatives from the southern Conferences gathered in1845 in Nashville to form the new Methodist Episcopal Church South. By 1859 the statistics showed the MEC,South had as enrolled members some 511,601 whites and 197,000 blacks (nearly all of whom were slaves), and 4,200 Indians. In 1858 MEC, South operated 106 schools and colleges (David Young; et al. (1860). The Methodist Almanac: 1861. p. 26.)
MEC South: Conferences' Borders 1901
By the time the Genesee Campgrounds were established by Methodist laymen, according to Owen Baker, Camp Meetings were already creating discussions about how their work might otherwise be conducted in order to get new converts into a church community. Nevertheless, they remained basically the same including the tents and outdoor exuberance that was common place for this brand of evangelistic outreach which had come to be particularly associated with the Methodist Episcopals and the prominent but limited viewpoint that the working of the Holy Spirit should be able to be seen, at least initially, through demonstrations of human emotion. In 1857, by an act of the NYS Legislature, the Genesee Campground was chartered "under the Jurisdiction and according to the usages of the Genesee Conference."Just 3 years later, the seven states of the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) seceded from the Union. These States were convinced that their way of life, based on slavery, was irretrievably threatened by the election of President Abraham Lincoln (November 1860). The result of secession during those months following the election, ultimately culminated in the American Civil War.
"B. T. Roberts," according to Rev. Owen Baker's notes, "was the leader of a group of younger men in the Conference ... who were agitating against secret societies, expensive dress, seat rentals, and choirs, and in favor of demonstration in worship, [with] emphasis on their ideas of holiness and a return to what they called 'old-fashioned Methodism.' " These young men had become the first Trustees of the new Campground charter with Benjamin T. (B.T.) Roberts as its president.
"When they found they could not control the Conference, but did control the Board of Trustees of the Camp Ground," according to Baker, "they secured, in 1859, a change in the Charter, putting the meetings under the jurisdiction of the trustees instead of the Conference. But in 1858, Roberts was expelled from the Conference, and in 1859, four others were expelled, all appealing to the General Conference of 1860, which upheld the action of Genesee Conference. So the expelled men in 1860 organized the Free Methodist Church and took with them many members of the M. E. Church. They claimed possession of the Camp Ground on the plea that they were the legal Association.
BENJAMIN T. ROBERTS (1823-1893); Free Methodist Logo
"In June of 1862, the Conference held a camp meeting on the Grounds. Notices were sent to the trustees of a duly called election, and notice was read in the meetings according to law calling for an election on June 13th. No election had been held and six places were declared vacant." The only trustee present, Asa Allis, was made chairman of the meeting with J. B. Wentworth as Secretary and the rest of the vacant trustee positions were elected. Officers were elected on June 19th in Brockport. They were, however, unsuccessful in securing the records of the Board from Roberts.
Conference Camp Meetings continued to be held yearly "with considerable success." A report was made in 1865 by the Conference Camp Meetings Committee giving that year's August meeting the designation of "a grand success ... and retrieved the time-honored and efficient means of grace from the odium which had been attached to it by its association with Nazaritical folly and fanaticism in the minds of our people."
"Roberts and his group continued to hold meetings on the grounds and made considerable trouble," from the Baker records, reporting, "The Conference gave up holding any meeting in 1870, and suit for the possession of the groundswas instituted in the court in Batavia. The court decision went against Roberts ... which included the sale of the Bergen property and the purchase of the Silver Lake site." The Bergen site was purchased by the Rev. J. E. Bills for $2,500 and the Silver Lake site purchased for $3,000.
Illustration of the Methodist Camp Meeting held in Sing Sing, NY in 1868.
The Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) and its Bishops were turned to analyzing the long tradition of camp meetings since they had been noticing a clear trend away from the purely spiritual and prayerful nature of the originals in addition to the forsaking of the local congregation in favor of these spectacular and large events. Converts were not necessarily returning to a local church after their grand experiences, but simply returning to the camps for more of the same. Evangelism was supposed to be the process for entrance into the Church of Jesus Christ where the rest of the work of our call from Christ was accomplished.
Historian Frederick Jackson Turner pointed to thecamps' overemphasis of individualism, egalitarianism, and anti-intellectualism. Karen B. Westerfield Tucker wrote, "The co-opting of the camp meeting for the promotion of causes other than just the spiritual contributed to its decline ... Nevertheless, the camp meeting as an institution did not die, though many once thriving campgrounds disappeared ..."
Some of the Trustees in the Genesee Campground Association began to take to heart the Bishops' concernfor a more comprehensive teaching of faith for living, more in-depth religion, helpful education, and becoming an influence in culture, in a more learning-centered environment. In other words, expanding on the development of the Christian beyond an annual diet of sin, guilt, conversion, and Holy-Spirit-infusion preaching.
Some people were perfectly content with the individualistic diet and pizazz that the camp meetings provided, while others believed the kingdom building work of Christ was not emphasized enough. Those who wanted more advanced procedures for teaching, pointed to the well educated founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley, and realized how much the early American and frontier spirit had been unable to keep up with the spiritual and educational needs of its people, apart from basic salvation.
AMERICAN SLAVERY and HOLY ROLLERS
The camp meetings were becoming almost overwhelmed with disagreements about the Slavery issue in the country and in the church. The second major disagreement was about Methodism's doctrine of Sanctification, also known as the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit within a person. Was this to be a quiet "I felt my heart strangely warmed" as John Wesley described or a visibly emotional experience as those taking place in the camp meetings? One local Historian describes it as creating considerable dissention at camp meetings and beyond, leaving less than favorable feelings about the Bergen campgrounds.
SPIRITUAL DISSENT CAUSES SPLIT
The theological disagreement was particularly focused here in Western NY between "the Buffalo Regency" (religious formalists) versus the "Nazarites" (a derisive term for those who favored a high degree of emotional expression). Unfortunately, the Regency was in the position of power and it was used to expel Methodist ministers of the "Nazarite" persuasion out of the church. It grew throughout the 1850's and culminated with many of the Methodist Nazarites breaking with the mother church and forming the Free Methodist Church. One of the local Methodist Ministers, B. T. Roberts was expelled from the Genesee Conference at its annual meeting held in 1858 in Perry, NY. The Free Methodist Church was established in 1860 in Pekin, NY. Both denominations continued to use Bergen Campground until 1870 when the M.E.s stopped, having found it intolerable. Two years later, the campground Trustees and the Conference brought suit for possession of the Bergen campgrounds and won.
CAMPGROUND TRUSTEES TAKE ACTION
The Campground Trustees thought a fresh start in a new location would be a good thing after years of bitterness and hard feelings. They may have been swayed also by early talk of what would become the new Chautauqua-type assemblies utilizing lectures, classes, preaching, and thoughtful consideration of issues, with no emphasis on generated emotionalism.
The Trustees became aware of Silver Lake, its more centralized location in the Genesee Conference, and its available acreage. They also became aware of the plans to run a railroad line along the Eastern shore and were encouraged by talk of similar possibilities taking shape at Chautauqua Lake. They visited Silver Lake and were immensely impressed, making their first purchase of land for $3,000, and the sale of the Bergen Campground to the Rev. J. E. Bills for $2,500.
The early history of the Free Methodist Church indicates that they continued to refer to their successful events at the Bergen campgrounds. The Rev. J. E. Bills who bought the Bergen Campgrounds may have been instrumental in getting it returned to the (Free) Methodists, many of whom were originally Methodist Episcopals, clergy and lay alike.
A Summary of Dates from Bergen History
Bishop Asbury and Bishop McKendry organized the Genesee Conference out of a much larger Conference area. When traveling by horse, that took pastors away from their people for many weeks during the annual meetings.
First lithograph of a camp meeting first published in London.
New York State Barge Canal officially opens.
Railroad Train service officially begins in Bergen, New York.
The Group of Lay and Clergy Methodist Episcopals who split from the mother church over three doctrinal issues in 1843, adopted the name of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection.
All the M.E. Churches from the South who were present at the General Conference of 1844 in New York, knew they "could no longer remain in communion" with the Northern M.E.s because Slavery was an economic necessity to their way of life. Representatives from the Southern Conferences gathered in Nashville in 1845 to form the new Methodist Episcopal Church South. It would remain separated for the next 94 years.
First official mention of the Campgrounds at Bergen hosting Camp Meetings.
First official mention of the Genesee Conference's involvement in the Camp Meetings at Bergen.
The Genesee Campgrounds were officially chartered by the New York State Legislature "under the jurisdiction of the M.E. Church."
The Rev. B.T. Roberts, president of the Campground Board of Trustees, was expelled from the Genesee Conference meeting at Perry, New York. The following year, four other Campground Trustees were expelled in that meeting of the Genesee Annual Conference.
(1) The five expelled men had appealed their cases to the General Conference and lost.
(2) Those same five men went to Pekin, NY, and established the Free Methodist Church, taking with them a significant number of M.E. lay and clergy.
(3) The expelled men claimed possession of the Campground on the plea that they were the legal Association.
(4) The Conference went ahead with an election since there were five "vacancies" that needed to be filled and the new Trustee Board carried on.
(5) Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.
(6) Almost immediately the seven states of the Deep South began to secede from the Union.
(1) The Conference declined to do a Camp Meeting finding the intentional trouble-making intolerable.
(2) Instead, the Conference and the new Board of Trustees sued for possession of the Campgrounds and won.
(1) The Bergen Campgrounds had been sold and a search resulted in the purchase of a new Campsite at Silver Lake. They began work readying the property for a Camp Meeting for the following year.
(2) The South is in turmoil with the U.S. Army running all the State and Local governments. African-Americans becoming prominent in public leadership. The Klu Klux Klan becomes increasingly powerful and influential.
AMERICAN HISTORY DURING
THIS PERIOD OF TIME
RE-CONSTRUCTION CUT OFF BY THE UNEXPECTED PRESIDENCY IN 1876
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
FIRST YEARS AT SILVER LAKE Beginning in 1873
Bring Horse and Wagon
The Horse and Wagon, Carriage, and Coach were the primary sources of transportation used to get to the Camp Grounds and for many locals and rurals remained that way. It was rough travel, inconvenient, and a supply of water was absolutely essential in packing. The arriving horses and their passengers entered at the tree-lined Camp Road entry point. This is where the horses could be stabled, fed and watered and wagons could be stored since space was limited on the tent lots.
Boarding House Helpful
If you didn't bring your own tent, tents could be rented on site, or there was limited accommodations at the Boarding House shown above, which was not far from the train station, just a few lots up on Wesley Ave..
The Pavilion was built for all the Preachers-- preaching or not
"The Pavilion" as it was known locally and "Preacher's Stand" as it was known historically, is pictured here on the Camp Wesley grounds, circa. Mid 1870s, most likely on the West end of Bishop Burt Park. Camp Wesley was the first name given to the new campgrounds.
What the Preachers Saw Looking Down from the Pavilion
Having already established the seating position and the use of the Pavilion, Owen C. Baker describes more of the seating of the audience -- "Men sat in front at the Silver Lake Camp Meeting. Didn't shave much. Tents in Background."
Start Up Years:
1873-85 'Camp Meetings' while at first 'Camp Wesley'
Camp Wesley, as it was first named, began as a traditional Camp Meeting with the "Preaching Stand" (above), chairs, tents, and little else. The Pavilion, or Preachers' Stand, is where all of the ministers sat with their backs to the Lake on the West facing East. The audience faced West (Lakeward), looking at the Preachers; they, however did not have shelter until the Trustees along with Niagara District, jointly purchased a 50' x 50' tent.
While the Camp Meeting remained the emphasis, its nature was somewhat more subdued and a lot less disruptive. In the old style camp meetings, it was not unusual for crying, wailing, waving handkerchiefs, "fainting spells" and other forms of audience participation. The dream of chautauqua in the minds of a few in the 1870s, was now, in the1880s, in the minds of many and growing stronger.
Finally, after two years of a Chautauqua program (1886-1887), there was no going back. The talk now was to continue the chautauqua style and build upon it, which was what some famous MEC Bishops and the Buffalo Regency had wanted to see all along. The Regency stood for the formal practice of worship and religion with full use of the intellect, as opposed to abundant emotionalism without much need for intelligent thought. Those who had broken away from the mother church already were providing the emotional approach.
Although Chautauqua was begun by the same Methodist Bishops as Silver Lake, Chautauqua had early on sought for financial stability and backing without being linked or confined by any other associations. Silver Lake, on the the other hand, found itself uniquely attached to the Genesee Conference, and quite often depended on its resources for programming and donations.
Attendance at Camp Wesley developed quickly during these years and the desire to expand beyond personal faith also increased to broader educational and cultural interests. Even at this early time, Chautauqua stood as a prime example of the programming being responded to by people of faith.
A Summary of Dates for first 15 Years at S/Lake
First Camp Meeting at Silver Lake; the Camp Groundwas named Camp Wesley.
Rules established for Owning and Renting of Lots
Major effort to promote the Camp
(1) Report to Conference: High acclaim for vastly increased attendance. (2) Charter Amendment changing jurisdiction from Conference to Camp Trustees.
10 acres to the North were purchased; basically from Wesley Ave. to Camp Rd., east of Perry Ave. and described as "wilderness."
Charter Amendment increasing Trustees to 18, 9 to be elected by the Conference.
Guest: Prof. Butz of Drew Theological Seminary.
Improved drainage, plank walks, new structures, and increased sanitary conveniences.
(1) Officially discussed adding Chautauqua features; (2) Trustees approved the plans which were sent to Conference which also approved.
Chautauqua features added: Children'sHour, Normal Class, Elocution, School of Languages, English Literature, and a Course of Lectures. The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) was adopted and 11 members graduated, receiving diplomas from Dr. J. H. Vincent. The Chautauqua program took the name of the Silver Lake Chautauqua Assembly. Many cottages were built in this year.
(1) A two-week Chautauqua program was put on, followed by the camp meeting. The program was enlarged by the addition of a School of Music under Prof. C. E. Leslie of Chicago; a School of Typewriting and Shorthand; lectures, concerts, entertainments; Grand Army Day with Chaplain McCabe and a Sam Jones Day. Bishop William Taylor and Missionary William Butler were on the program. (2) Bells were rung to mark the hours of the program. (3) Great crowds attended. (4) The railroad ran large excursions. (5) The name of the depot was changed from Camp Wesley to Silver Lake Assembly. (6) A great open air auditorium had been built in the spring on the site of the old pavilion, by Mr. Wells of Scottsburg at the cost of $1,800. It was one of the best of its kind in the country. It was unique in that no posts obstructed the view of the platform which would seat 500 singers. The main part seated 2,000. Tickets for the whole season cost $1.50. This grand facility had just recently been brought up to standards when it burned in 1918.
1886-1895 The Silver Lake (Chautauqua) Assembly
If we could say that the 1870s were "committed" to old fashioned, outdoor tent, bug-biting and rain camping, then the 1880s was the movement away from that, beginning with individuals building cottages instead of tents. Discussions about expanding the Silver Lake program beyond Camp Meetings and into lectures and classes with reknown leaders was now part of regular conversation. The WNY Chautauqua was not only an original location, but was rapidly turning into a movement crossing the country.
Silver Lake started its own version of Chautauqua without any of the usual trappings--such as buildings--but even so, its first year, 1886, was a tremendous success. So much so was this success, that the Genesee Conference put its figurative imprimatur on the Trustees' Report to Conference in 1887. The Genesee Campgrounds went from being known as Camp Wesley to the Silver Lake Chautauqua Assembly ("Assembly" for short).
By 1887 “a new departure has been made” as stated in the Genesee Conference Annual Conference Journal, quote, “by the trustees in the inauguration of a Chautauqua movement in connection with the Camp Meeting.... The Silver Lake Chautauqua Assembly met with unexpected success in this first year of existence...” Following the Genesee Conference's approval that year, the decision was made to become more "Chatauqua-like" since the same Bishops and leaders were active at the startup of both endeavors.
The first new building (other than the Pavilion and individually owned cottages), was the massive, 2,000-seat (additional 500 chorus members on the stage) open-air amphitheatre or auditorium which, amazingly, was completed for the 1888 season--and this was without the Preacher's Stand (as originally proposed)--a strong symbol of the past now gone. This first building was completed just one year after the Trustees reported to the Conference about their successful experiment with a chatauqua-learning-style. The growth and success of the Chautauqua Assembly would come to be known as the best years at Silver Lake (1886 through 1895), during which the drive was for chautauqua-like buildings in which to study and learn, and they seemed to come almost one right after the other.
1888 - The Bishop Burt Park Auditorium
1889 - Hall of Philosophy (Epworth Inn)
1892 - Epworth Hall, Ames Ave.
1892 - The W.C.T.U. HQ. (Stoody)
1895 - The Hoag Memorial Inherited
In October of 1887, a large work crew was put together to turn the grounds into a well trimmed and beautified area. It also turned the 1880 purchase of "wilderness" between Wesley Ave. and Camp Rd. (east of Perry Ave.) into relatively level ground, groomed streets with buried drainage tile, and lots ready to be sold.
In 1889, Ames Ave., by default, became the "main drag" over to the Hall of Philosophy and then Epworth Hall which was actually built on Ames Avenue in 1892. (Ames Ave. became Palestine Ave. to the South of Chapman as it past in front of the Hall of Philosophy.) Ames Ave. remained the Assembly's "Main Street" until approximately 1954 when Perry Ave. was extended through the park and over to Chapman Ave. (Today, historic Ames Ave. has been partially sold off. Ames Ave. ends [on the south end] opposite the front door of Epworth Hall where the Perry Ave. "Extension" paves over Ames Ave. and continues on to Chapman Ave. Two residential properties purchased the length of Ames Ave. that was next to each of their cottage properties and used it today as personal driveways. This ended the thoroughfare of Ames Avenue between Epworth and Hamline-- plus an additional 66 feet on the other side of Hamline Ave. where the second property is located. Ames today remains an unpaved accessible walkway only from Bishop Burt Park to Haven Ave.; then on the other side of Haven, one-half of Ames was purchased leaving the other one-half of Ames to deadend 66 feet past Haven Ave. going south. Easements or leases by the Institute as opposed to permanent sales, might have maintained the historical integrity of this unique and significant "Avenue.")
Click the Map to pull up a large size map. This shows the placement of the new auditorium which was about 50 feet further East (1888 and after).
First Planned Building for Chautauqua Assembly becomes Reality
First concept drawing of the Auditorium or Amphitheatre, had the old Preaching Stand sitting tightly against the new open-air structure; circa 1887.
Very soon after it was determined to build a free-standing amphitheatre and retire the old, leaky Preacher's Stand, construction was completed for the 1888 Season. The Trustees were anxious to get this structure up and completed since a prolonged, hard rain could ruin an entire Assembly. Furthermore, they had started paying to get noted preachers from as far away as Chicago to come, and they couldn't stand the thought of wasted money should they be rained out.
This first concept drawing was found on an early letterhead paper of 1889 and, as you can see, refers to this as the "auditorium" meaning that the two names for it were apparently used interchangably. The book, "History of the Silver Lake Institute" by Lynda Durkee Owen Kahn, refers to the Preacher's Stand in 1887 as "our Pavillion" when describing it as dark, leaky, and dank. This book is compiled from records preserved by The Rev. Owen C. Baker.
First Building Ready for 1888 Season
The new Amphitheatre not only displaced fewer trees, according to the drawing, but also took on a radically modern appearance since it replaced a tradition of Preaching Stands that went back nearly 100 years. Elimination of the Pavilion was a natural move in light of the new designation of Camp Wesley as the Silver Lake Chautauqua-Assembly in 1888. (Silver Lake Assembly for short.)
The new outdoor amphitheatre was built in 1888, just four years before Epworth Hall. It had an arched roof 32’ high and was 80’ by 120’ in size. It cost $2,000. Unfortunately, the Amphitheater was lost to a disastrous fire in 1918, thereby ending the "early era" at Silver Lake and causing Epworth Hall to be used not only for lectures and the Epworth League, but also now for the preaching, so much of which had taken place outdoors up to 1918. Part of the excitement for the new amphitheatre was because the design was being hailed as the latest available for auditoriums that highlighted a totally unobstructed view because there were no support posts needed. A new, local company also brought excitement because they were eager to build and complete building on schedule. It was the Wells family of Monroe County and it became known as the Wells Barns--they actually only built two auditoriums--one at Silver Lake NY, and one downstate in New York.
John Talcott WellsSr.
(1843-1931)of Wheatlandwas awarded patent number 401,870 on
April 23, 1880for his arched
truss design. His firm was
responsible for building nearly 200 barns in New York State,
and Canada as well as
auditoriums at Silver Lake, and at Prohibition
Park on Staten
Island. The amphitheater plans were more rounded at the tops of
the arches rather than the pointed Gothic style Wells used for the barns.
J. Talcott was the twelfth of the thirteen children born to Moses
and Myra Goodhue Wells. He
adopted his father’s trade, becoming a master mechanic, builder and
With reliable refrigeration and railroad transport, many farms
switched from raising sheep to milk cows, which then required larger
barns. Starting in 1871, J.
Talcott Wells sought to develop a strong fabricated barn truss that would
create larger open storage spaces. Forkloads
of hay or slings of grain could then be raised by pulley and carried without
obstructions along the hay track from the wagon to the mow overhead.
With their gothic pointed arch, the Wells buildings were often
higher than other gambrel constructions, reaching 45 to 65 feet. Andby
varying the number of trusses,they
could be as long as desired (one reached 175 feet).
By the late 1800s, sufficient size lumber for traditional post and
beam construction was in short supply. The
Wells’ design used small dimensioned lumberthat
could be cut in the gasoline-powered mills operating then. Machine-made nails
and unemployed laborers were plentiful. Thus
Wells Barns were not only strong and practical, but affordable as well.
Double trusses of considerable strength were made according to a
pattern chalked on the barn floor, and then hoisted into place. The inner slightly curved ribs of the
truss used 2 x 3 inch planks. These
were spiked together and then bolted to short cross pieces connecting to the
gambrel shaped outer frame.
Wells Barns are easy to identify. From the outside, one sees a gambrel
roof and the trademark double windows in the gable ends. Theheavy
peaked molding over the windowsresembles
a “lazy W” (its arms in a relaxed position).
But the proof is in the appearance of the interior. The open floor space is unobstructed
with beams or posts. Curved
trusses rise gracefully from the floor to the ridge where they meet in a Gothic
style arch, bringing acathedral-like
atmosphere unique to Wells Barns.
John Talcott Wells Sr. retired in 1914, and his sons, Stephen,
John Talcott Jr., and Noland took over the business.
The use in the 20th century of electric machinery, tractors, and
new building materials eventually made the Wells arch buildings obsolete. Dozens are still standing, many in
western Monroe County. The last Wells Barn was built in
Stokoe Farm at 940 Bowerman Road,
The planning for the new Amphitheatre which took the place of "our old, leaky Pavilion" (Preaching Stand) and open air audience seating area, was a part of the grand scheme of transitioning to being "Chautauqua Assembly." The building of the Amphitheatre, Epworth Hall, the Hall of Philosophy (later Epworth Inn), and the W.C.T.U. Building (later Stoody Hall), was in conjunction with this changing mission of the Assembly from exclusively camp meetings to a Chautauqua-like experience of lectures, classes, and providing for the social good in people's lives such as education.
In 1894, The Buffalo Courier reported on the Silver Lake Assembly's final attractions and "the Sunday Programmes" by headlining-, "The Season has been Very Successful -- The Attendance Liberal and Receipts Up to the Expenses." It also reported that the Health Physician of Castile, NY, released the following report:
"We have made a careful inspection of the grounds of Silver Lake Assembly, and find the sanitary arrangements, under the management of Mr. D. L. Shields, to be as nearly perfect as possible. The grounds are perfectly clean. There is an entire absence of all sickness and all disease-producing causes, and we assure the general public that there is no more healthful place to be found in Western New York than the Silver Lake Assembly," (signed) L. C. Broughton, Health Physician, August 3, 1894.
IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES,
IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES
(1) "In 1895, the State Legislature gave the Assembly power to make rules and enforce order by the appointment of police officers with full police authority on the grounds and ten rods outside."
(2) "The expense of programs and development of the grounds exceeded the income. Heroic efforts were made to raise money but the debt continued to pile up."
(3) "The Cleveland depression hurt the attendance so that the program in 1895 had to be somewhat reduced. Yet the Assembly had a good season."
(4) "A daily paper was successfully conducted. F. B. Smith of the Perry Herald was the publisher, and the Rev. T. F. Parker, editor."
(5) "Wilbur N. Hoag of Akron bequeathed the Assembly the Hoag Memorial Art Gallery in 1895 and also provided maintenance funds to be used by the trustees in accordance with the terms of the will. Nancy Culley Sellar adds this:
"Admission to the Assembly grounds was through a gated fence and by payment of a daily or seasonal fee.
"Unfortunately, the rapid expansion of the Assembly proceeded to a point where its expenditures considerably exceeded its means. A national depression in the mid-1890’s exacerbated the problems. Not only was the classroom Hall of Philosophy foreclosed upon in 1897 but Assembly programming itself had to be suspended by 1902. Eventually the Assembly grounds were foreclosed on as well. Rev. John H. Stoody rescued the Silver Lake Assembly in 1905 by personally purchasing its mortgage and its debts. He arranged easy terms for the Assembly’s redemption and saw to the resumption of its programs in 1908.
"However, a new model was put into effect after the collapse of the Assembly- –the Institute plan of operation that had been shown to be successful by the YMCA at Silver Bay, NY. Now, the Institute convened for 10 days to 2 weeks and offered courses in Bible study, evangelism, Christian relations with society, foreign and domestic mission work, crafts, and practical subjects like typing and public speaking. There was an orchestra and a 100 voice chorus, offering many fine concerts in the auditorium. And time was always allotted for recreation, including water sports and baseball, which had its own grandstand up at the top of the hill."
"This goal of this plan was to train leaders to carry on the religious teachings of Methodism as they returned to their daily lives. By 1924 the Institute had become the largest in NY State, billing itself as The Western NY Summer School of Christian Education, with accredited courses toward the diploma of the interdenominational International Council of Religious Education. In 1923 the Institute’s Summer School had 234 mostly young full time students from 18 counties. Most of the faculty and 30 students stayed in the Epworth Inn (which had been repurchased by the Institute in 1919 after losing it to foreclosure in 1897 and after it had gone through subsequent incarnations as a hotel, a sanitarium and a naval academy.) The rest of the students stayed in nearby cottages. Epworth Hall, which had been built in 1892, was the site for instruction. The lower level was divided up in 1906 to make more classroom space. Epworth Hall was also used for worship and other large events after the amphitheater burned down in 1918.
"Looking back we can see that the next phase began in the mid 1940’s when 21 additional acres on the south side of Chapman Avenue were purchased to further develop the training center."
By 1907 the Train had expanded attendance at Silver Lake Chautauqua Assembly, and faithfully delivered its mail. Shown below in 1916 are people arriving by train at the Station in front of the Institute. Most arrivals had traveled from Buffalo and Rochester through Silver Springs on the 6-mile "spur" on its way to dead end in Perry where the Round House would turn the engine around for the return trip. The train also transported coal, dry goods, and mail for Perry homes and businesses. Passenger Excursions were planned for those wishing to travel to the Institute, previously known first as Camp Wesley, then as Silver Lake Chautauqua Assembly, then simply Silver Lake Assembly, and finally in 1919, Silver Lake Institute, having finally adopted the "institute" style of programming.
HISTORICAL SUMMARY BY WNY RAILS.NET/RAILROADS
The Silver Lake Railroad was chartered in June 1869 to build a railroad from Perry to a connection with the Erie Railroad at Silver Springs. The road was chartered, but no construction was done on the route. Around 1871 the Silver Lake Railroad was absorbed into the Rochester and Pine Creek Railroad which was chartered to build a line from Caledonia to Silver Springs. On February 1, 1872 the Rochester and Pine Creek opened the six mile line from Perry to Silver Springs. The line operated as the Silver Lake branch of the BR&P and later the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Service on the line ended in 1971 and the tracks were removed in 1977. See: http://www.wnyrails.net/railroads/brp/brp_slrr_home.htm.
LOCAL RAILROAD HISTORY
There is a much more fascinating version of local history when it comes to the Silver Lake Railroad. I will be writing it up soon.
The information typed onto the picture is helpful though the period identified is of the campgrounds when it went under the name "Camp Wesley," as opposed to the 1887 designation of "Assembly." Rather than identifying this as the Railway Station, it was the elaborate ticket gate structure, designed to be the one located down at the tracks to welcome excursion train travelers to the Camp experience.
With trains rolling on the edge of the Camp Wesley grounds since February of 1872, it is anybody's guess which exact year the first stop may have been made at the Camp Wesley Grounds. One assumption is that the Railway was notified that a stop was requested for Camp Wesley at least by 1873. The picture shows people passing through the fancy Ticket Gate at the railroad which may have served as a temporary train station down at the dock area until the railroad completed their regular enclosed station. The Bishop Burt Park area would have been the main attraction area ... This "Ticket Gate" was constructed with the railroad in mind since visitors had known about, and observed the train passing by since their first year was spent building the camp, its pathways, etc. in 1872.
The track was closest to the Lake, then the enclosed Train Station was next to the track which was opposite the Dock (as shown in the first picture above and the Map segment below). The Railroad "spur" from Silver Springs to Perry made possible a convenient stop at the Silver Lake Assembly. This not-to-scale map raises the basic question of why do photographs show the enclosed train station next to Hoag Memorial; perhaps this large drawing of the station was meant to represent the ticket gate.
The graphic above is a cropped segment taken from the oldest known map in the Institute (up to this point) and shows the area in the immediate vicinity of Wesley Avenue and Lakeview Avenue. The relationship of that intersection to the Train Station, the Railroad, and the Dock is also easily observable but does raise questions.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
4 New Planned Buildings for Chautauqua Assembly 1888 - Amphitheatre - Burt Park 1889 - Hall of Philosophy 1892 - Epworth Hall 1892 W.C.T. U. (Stoody Hall) Children's Temple remained unbuilt
From Camping to Learning: Building #2: Hall of Philosophy
1889-1905 Hall of Philosophy Doctor-owned Sanitarium Private Owned Hotel Naval Academy Epworth Inn
In 1905, the Hall of Philosophy was bought by a doctor who transformed it into a sanitarium. This failed and in 1912 a hotel company operated it as a summer hotel. When this failed, a group of businessmen in Perry bought the property for use as a Military and Naval School. This prospered for a few years, and after being vacant for a while, a group of persons related to the Genesee Conference bought it and saved it for the Conference.
1889 saw the erection of the new, somewhat majestic-appearing Hall of Philosophy which, after ten years and the emergence of an economic depression, changed hands several times with Mr. Chapman's son being the first to foreclose on it. The Hall of Philosophy was purchased by some generous local men and turned over to the Conference and Institute, then becoming the Epworth Inn. It originally was a two-story building; the bottom floor was added later.
Served next as a Sanitarium Served Also for a Time as a Hotel.
Served Also for a Time as a Naval Academy.
The Epworth Inn's Main Entrance as it faced the Lake. This is pretty much how it appeared during the mid 20th Century until its demise in 1972, three years short of the end of the Vietnam War.
3rd Building Put Up for the Chautauqua Assembly
Epworth Hall, also known early as Epworth Building
1892 saw the erection of the stately Epworth Hall, built in the style of the second architectural drawing.
These second and third permanent buildings put a more sophisticated and progressive signature on the grounds as did the donated Hoag Memorial Art Gallery in 1895. While Epworth Hall, the Hall of Philosophy, and the Hoag Art Gallery were clear steps in the Chautauqua movement (often associated with the Social Gospel), it was Stoody Hall whose purpose was most obviously linked with the Social Gospel since its purpose was to change two distinct parts of the country's social reality--alcohol and tobacco consumption. Stoody was first built as a headquarters for Temperance Assemblies and the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). It was also built in 1892.
The Children's Temple, although authorized, was never built by its donor. (Three out of four doesn't seem bad at all.)
Epworth Hall was Built in 1892 as shown (above at the left). This tree-lined path (Ames Ave.) began at the location of the Amphitheater (1888) where Bishop Burt Park is now, running through the residential area until it passed in front of Epworth Hall, continuing on and crossing Chapman Ave. where it became Palestine Ave. and took an angle to the left passing in front of the Hall of Philosophy (1889) (Epworth Inn and now Wilmott Lodge) and into the heavily wooded areas. The "new" and extended Perry Avenue today cuts off this pathway right in front of Epworth, several hundred feet before Chapman Avenue, leaving little or no remnants at that point. Although some of the tree-lined path is still evident in front of Epworth Hall and into the residential area. The tree-lined path is also somewhat evident between Chapman Avenue and along the front of Wilmott Lodge, standing as a living reminder of bygone years. Current generations (2015) still reminisce about using Ames Ave. to walk to Epworth since the "new" Perry Ave. had no safety features for those choosing to walk. Today, the Ames Avenue footpath remains a historical gem for all to use and enjoy on their walks between Epworth Hall (at the "v-intersection" of Ames and Perry Avenues which is opposite the Epworth front doors) and Bishop Burt Park (at the "t-intersection" of Genesee and Ames Avenues). It had been previously reported that "well over 100 feet of Ames Avenue has become private property through land-owners purchases adding the historic walkway to their private lots . . . " Thisreportwasin error and most likely caused by some encroachments into the sides of Ames Ave., in addition to local residents taking advantage of Board-authorized parking along Ames Ave. as long as it did "not prevent walkers from using the historic footpath" known as Ames Ave.
DOWN MEMORY LANE Sutton Manor
The Sutton / Methodist Manor above appears to be in its prime, although the year of the photograph is not known.
Sutton Manor, part of the extensive Sutton Estate, was owned by Mr. Edward Sutton, founder of the Fro-Joy Ice Cream Company of Buffalo which eventually was sold to General Foods. The Manor was a three-story structure with 20 rooms, a ballroom and 32 beds, right on the lake. In order to expand, the Silver Lake Institute Trustees purchased the adjacent Sutton estate in 1944. The Sutton Manor's name was changed to The Methodist Manor and was used to house the Institute faculty, students, and paying guests.
In later years, as part of Asbury Camp, the Methodist Manor was used extensively in housing children and youth for those age-related camps. The United Methodist Church of Orchard Park used it for over 40 years during the last week of June for its church camp. Had the Manor received its due care, it may still have been standing today, but who can really say with its foundation of wood. Having been built before the turn of the century, the old Manor was torn down in 2006. Its replacement, the Asbury Manor, was built across Lakeside Ave. on higher ground, conveniently level with the upper entrance to the Koinonia Inn.
1939 was a year of celebration for the Methodist Episcopal Churches (North and South)--long divided by issues of slavery and segregation, and the Methodist Protestant Church (divided in 1830 over power of the bishops and lack of lay representation). These three denominations were able to carve out an agreement that would bring them together as a new denomination called The Methodist Church. That same year, however, Europe was plunged into a second world war after only 21 years of peace since the end of the first world war.
Following the close of World War II in 1945, the Genesee Conference formulated an expansive building plan geared to accommodate many returning service persons and their new post-war families in religious education and inspiration. They developed an extensive plan for the Campus Area of the Institute following its expansion in acreage by the purchase of the adjoining Sutton Tract.
This area had originally been laid out with streets and avenues as was the original section, but that was shelved in favor of a camping facility which was the primary need at that time of the Genesee Conference. The conference, in 1946-1947, set about a large capital funds drive among all the districts of the Conference in order to raise the funds necessary to build this new camping facility. The plans extended from Chapman Ave. all the way south to the original paper street of Fifth Avenue.
The results of the campaign did not leave them with enough success to embark on the plan as promoted. A truncated plan had to be drawn up, along with some donated laborers and materials. Big Cedar was built as was Batavia and Mabuce cabins. In addition, a Snack Shack and an Arts & Craft shop were put up. Such was the camp through 1972. Over the course of the years, some cottages that were sparse in that section were sold or donated over to the camp for their use, adding room for camp summer staff.
A GENESEE CONFERENCE WRITER PROVIDES
A DIFFERENT HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
In an elaborate booklet prepared as a money-raising tool for the Conference, the following brief history in the words of a Conference writer is recorded:
" 'Silver Lake' is a series of summer camps, operated by the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Church, which provide rich experiences of study, fellowship, recreation and worship under competent leadership for children, youth and adults.
" 'Silver Lake' is a 'well-spring of the joy of living.' In a wholesome Christian atmosphere, the creative experiences of recreation, study, fellowship and worship are blended into a new and joyous sense of the significance and wonder of the Christian Way of Life.
"The Silver Lake Institute Campus is located nearly at the center of the Genesee Conference, on the east shore of a beautiful small lake of that name. It is situated less than a mile south of the village of Perry, N.Y.
"In August, 1873, the Methodists of the Genesee Conference obtained a Franchise permitting them to organize and establish a camp ground upon this site. August, 1948, will mark the 75th anniversary of the first religious services which were held in this location. Through all these years varied types of religious and educational programs have been sponsored by the Conference. During recent years the many programs developed have become recognized as sources of spiritual enrichment so that each year an increasing number of persons desire to participate in them.
"The increased enrollment of children, youth and adults who desire to share in the spiritual as well as the physical benefits of 'Silver Lake' has placed the Conference in an embarrassing position for it has taxed the facilities far beyond their capacity. Furthermore, due to the unusual circumstances of these recent years, it has not been possible either to expand or to remodel to meet the growing needs.
"Fortunately, about three years ago, the trustees were able to purchase about 21 acres of land adjoining the original campus. This has opened the way for the realization of a cherished dream of the Conference -- 'to develop, at Silver Lake, a center for religious training and inspiration for growing Christian character, with adequate facilities to minister to folks in each department of our Church's life.' ...
"Physically at 'Silver Lake,' but spiritually at the foot of the Cross, we may study the needs of the world; we may understand ourselves more clearly; and discover where we can best serve; we may make our commitment according to our vision of the task to be done, or the need to be met; and we may receive the courage to dare to live adventurously in His Name."
Road thru the Park (c.1954)
Today, those driving along the historically "new" Perry Ave. Extension that cuts through the West end of the park, are actually driving where people used to be seated for the pre-1888 preaching services. In the early days, the men were seated in front (closest to the preachers) and the women were seated behind them--to the East.
The 1950s became road-building years. Returning servicemen from WWII, having seen places like the German Autobahn, asked why the United States did not have such a modern way of travelling. In the U.S., President Eisenhower has been credited with prioritizing the building of the Interstate Highway system from coast to coast. In New York State, Governor Dewey is credited with bringing many superhighway roads to State areas that ultimately connected to the Interstate system.
Also in the 1950s, the SLI Trustees hoped to keep all businesses and official buildings on Wesley Ave. and to keep our Post Office serviced by Train or Truck since the winds of change were blowing toward the U.S. Mail taking road transportation in the not-too-distance future, to its destinations. Even while mail was still being received by Train, the road through the West end of Burt Park was being planned.
Almost, as though coordinated with the State and National efforts at updating all their roads, the Institute Trustees and Town Trustees went about their work in creating a public road from Camp Road to Chapman Ave.
In order to clear the way for the new road project (Perry Ave. Extension), it was necessary for the Trustees to purchase an abandoned cottage just east of Park Ave. on the opposite side of Genesee Ave. (directly east of Schiske's cottage and west of Clarks' cottage) and tear it down so the tiny road between them could be enlarged and the new road extension pass through that section between the Clark's and Schiske's cottages. After curving southwest through Burt Park, the Perry Ave. Extension follows the path of old Kingsley Ave. (an obscure and tiny road through that residential section,) then curving abruptly southeastward and running atop and across Ames Ave. to run nearly parallel with Ames Ave. on Ames Ave.'s east side, over to intersect with Chapman, creating a new "t-intersection."
As a historical footpath, Ames Ave. was heavily used in getting guests and residents, by foot, between the three main buildings of the Institute--Auditorium, Epworth Hall, and Epworth Inn. Since the Perry Ave. Extension was designed for vehicle traffic and had no safety features for walkers such as sidewalks, the Ames footpath was used well into the current generations. The SLI Board of Trustees designated Ames Ave. to continue as a historical and current footpath for residents and guests both in the 1980s and in 2017. The Board allows parking of vehicles on Ames Ave. as long as they do not prevent the free flow of foot traffic on Ames. This parking policy is being re-evaluated in 2017 since there were growing reports that parking was indeed hindering the free flow of foot traffic.
At the time of this writing, we are trying to determine the year that the Perry Ave. Extension was constructed through the park, the re-constructng of Kingsley Ave., and the construction of the abrupt curve crossing Ames Ave. and continuing out to Chapman Ave.
We knew it had to be after 1918 or the Amphitheatre would have been in the way of the proposal. We knew it had to be later than 1946, since a map of that year showed no changes to Kingsley or Ames. We knew it had to be before 1966 since the Perry Herald contained a story that year about county road weight limits and Perry Ave. through the Institute was in the list of that 1966 edition--but how much earlier?
The map drawn in March of 1946 was by the engineering firm of Wm. S. Lozier Co. Engineers of Rochester, which still shows Ames Ave. in its original path from the north lot line of Epworth over to Chapman Ave. with no other streets intersecting it such as the Perry Ave. Extension.
Institute Historian Bob Murphy was able to zero-in on when the road was built--1953 to 1955--when he was only about 4 or 5 at the time and his recollections are limited on this topic. (It is my hope to be researching Institute Minutes in 2017 for the answer to this and other questions.)
The first map segment below was cropped from the circa 1895 map still containing Kingsley Ave. which would eventually become part of the new Perry Ave. Extension through the Park. The second map segment below was cropped from the 1946 map and I've added blue lines where the Perry Ave. Extension is today were it to have been there in 1946. The third is a sattelite map showing the exact paths of both Perry Ave. and Ames Ave. in their relation to their surroundings. The fourth map segment below was cropped from a somewhat current map which shows the Perry Ave. Extension through Burt Park. I have added a gray rectangle which represents approximately where the huge amphitheatre was located in relationship to the road (it should be more to the right).
Map Segment #1
The most direct route for the Perry Ave. Extension was to go straight across the Bishop Burt Park and hook up with Ames Avenue. It may have been logical and even feasible, but not at all liked by the residents. (1) It cut the Park in half destroying its very character and separating the two parts with a line of traffic; (2) Ames Ave. was heavily developed as residential with the Avenue being much more of a walking path--the two solid rows of trees alone would have created a nightmare to remove and again, destroy the character of this once "main drag" between the major buildings. The choice to have Perry Ave. dip southwest to the westerly end of the park and link up with the old Kingsley Ave.--one far less built up which allowed for the wider road required for a public road. Kingsley had already avoided non-Institute property by taking a southeasterly path and curve causing it to cleanly intersect with Ames Ave. over near Chapman Ave. That's why you may not remember Kingsley Ave.--it has been paved over by Perry Ave. for a long and significant number of years and wasn't much of a road in the first place.
Map after Perry Ave. extension over to Chapman was completed and with the Amphitheatre imposed onto it showing its erroneous relationship to the Perry Ave. Extension. The gray sketch of the Amphitheatre should be considerably more to the right (nearer to Genesee and Ames Avenues). The Amphitheatre was burned down in 1918 by two young resident boys whose family rented a cottage at the time. Their ages were approximately 8 and 10 and the arson was intentional.
Both the Conference and the Institute had faced the post-war years with optimism and enthusiasm. The North MECs and the South MECs (and the Methodist Protestants) had completed a massive merger in 1939 under a new banner, "The Methodist Church." The celebration was somewhat delayed by the European War in the same year, 1939, and the U.S. being drawn into it in 1941 by way of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
The purchase of the Sutton Tract in 1944 put the Conference and the Institute in a good position, land wise, for expansion of buildings and programs. The lack of anticipated success in the capital funds drive of 1947 undoubtedly caught many off guard and it was reasonable to ask if the timing wasn't quite right.
Were people too busy in re-building personal lives and changing a war economy over to a peacetime one? Were local churches also too busy trying to accommodate a new surge of attendance to put their hearts fully into the project? Were war weary veterans less enthusiastic with talk of "camping" and "camp facilities" when such language was a part of their military existence for the previous four years? The new generation of youth, however, brought a dramatic change in the late 1950s with a resurge of interest in youth camping through the Epworth League of the Methodist Church.
Historically, the unofficial blame for the Capital Funds Drive was suggested as being the uncertainty of raising funds for buildings that would sit on land not deeded to the Conference. Even though this had always been true historically, that current generation was raising a very reasonable question in spite of the charter provision of "under the jurisdiction of the MEC." In other words, a charter provision doesn't quite stack up as well as "a deed in the hand."
While the Capital Funds Drive did not achieve the hoped for success, 4 new buildings were built--Russell Lodge (Big Cedar), Mabuce and Batavia cabins, taking some of the pressure off the housing problems; the Snack Shack was the fourth building and served also as a book store and souvenir shop. A number of years later, local churches and individuals would sponsor the building of 3 additional, seasonal cottages, along with a Craft Cottage which later was made into a shower room / lavatory for the seasonal cottages. The 1950s were used for discussion and negotiation between the Conference and the Institute as to the "deeding issue." An agreement was reached in 1957 and culminated in 1959 whereby the Conference would purchase all of the land known then as the Institute "Campus" area (now Camp Asbury) for $1.00 and for additional remuneration of annual fees, known as franchises, such as all other land owners were subject to pay if their properties fell within the boundaries of the Silver Lake Institute grounds.
This agreement gave the WNY Conference the deed to the land and gave the Institute it's rightful annual franchise fee, often referred to--less than accurately--as a tax, for the land and the buildings which sat within their boundaries. The result of this deeding agreement and filing was a successful capital funds drive in 1983 resulting in the erection of Koinonia Inn, and a substantial donation by the Willmott foundation for the erection in 1991 of the much-needed Willmott Lodge. Willmott Lodge filled the vacuum of needed space since the razing of Epworth Inn in 1972 had made for cramped overnight conditions. The new Asbury Manor was built in 2006 to replace the old Methodist Manor to the west.
The Institute, however, became concerned as they watched their historical buildings, now under the control of the Conference, dilapidate before their eyes--Epworth Inn which needed to be torn down in 1972; The Methodist Manor needing to be torn down in 2006, and Epworth Hall in considerable need of shoring up and repair at that time.
In the case of the Epworth Hall, the Institute negotiated an agreement to take back the care and maintenance of Epworth Hall and eventually ownership, allowing the Conference to rent the facility as needed with the exception of Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings. The Institute was able to save Epworth Hall and restore it, and it is a source of pride and considerable use today. This deeding of property made Chapman Avenue a north-south line of demarcation between the Institute and the Conference from Perry Avenue eastward to Thompkins Avenue. The balance of Chapman and Lakeview Avenues, remain a combination of properties--some within the bounds of the Institute, others within the bounds of the Upper New York Conference (Asbury Camp) and still others are privately and independently owned properties.
When entering the new Asbury Camp & Retreat Center at the entrance slightly opposite Perry Ave., the first vehicle-accessible building you come to on the left, having entered the Camp & Retreat grounds, is the Willmott Lodge. Built in 1991, Willmott Lodge was built with help from a grant from the Willmott Foundation. Willmott Lodge created additional space for people of all ages to come year round, with two identical wings with bedrooms, shared baths, and a common meeting room between wings. A second meeting room was added in 2004 to Willmott Lodge (right). All visitors entering the grounds must report to the Office located on the lower level which is the same level as the entrance driveway. Many years ago this entrance driveway used be known as Palestine Road. Willmott Lodge replaces the original Hall of Philosophy (later known as Epworth Inn) which stood on the same location from 1889 through 1972 when it was necessary to raze it for safety purposes. This is one of the many buildings which makes the SLI-Asbury "Silver Lake Experience" possible and requires the joint effort.
In the year 2010, the WNY Conference would merge with the North Central Conference and the portions of Troy and Pennsylvania Conferences which were located within the NYS boundaries to form a brand new Conference called Upper NY. Its new boundaries extended to the lengths of NY State lines except where the downstate New York Conference had its boundaries.
The WNY Conference had voted against a previous merger with the North Central Conference while they were still separate Conferences--North and Central. Neither North nor Central were happy with Western's decision and remembered it. The 2010 merger was a "better vote yes on it because you could get something much worse" kind of deal. The Western Conference voted in favor of the merger and it came to be.
In 2017, we will begin researching and preparing a more comprehensive and complete history for this last period of 1973-2016 and hope to have it posted by the opening of the 2017 summer season. Please note that there is more history of the Institute to be found in the "3 Tours" tab in the menu at the top of page 1.