Chautauqua Institution

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Chautauqua Institution

Post by tomhoward » Fri Sep 19, 2014 8:38 am


On Aug. 19, 2014, a beautiful sunny day, Jack and I visited the famous Chautauqua Institution, that has since its founding in 1874, been one of the world’s leading cultural institutions. It is the site of world famous lectures, of workshops for writers (fiction, poetry, non-fiction), musicians, dancers, visual artists; it has its own orchestra, opera, and dance companies, and there live classical music concerts nearly every day. It is an extraordinary place.

Chautauqua is one of the most idyllic places I’ve ever been, like a small town in a different, earlier, and slower time, with many parks, tree-lined streets with Victorian houses; the main square, called Bestor Plaza, is like a c.1910 village square, with its many big Sugar Maples and other big trees, open peaceful lawn, fountain, etc. The trees are large and mostly open-grown so are not very tall. Sugar Maple is the most common tree in most of Chautauqua. One of the tallest trees near Bestor Plaza is a Red Pine about 80 ft. tall.

Jack and I took a guided bus tour of the Institution’s expansive grounds, and we saw sections dedicated to music, dance, theatre, visual and literary arts. Many buildings are like classical Greek temples. Our guide told us that Gershwin wrote his famous piano concerto at Chautauqua in 1925. Also, just a couple weeks before we got there, the filmmaker Ken Burns, spent a week at Chautauqua. Thomas Edison’s second wife Mina Miller, was the daughter of one of the founders of the Institution. Chautauqua also has several fancy old hotels, especially the Athenaeum Hotel (where Jack and I ate dinner on the terrace with a beautiful view of big Sugar Maples by Chautauqua Lake), which was built in 1881, and where Edison stayed then, and where Pres. Clinton stayed in the 1990s.

One section of the Institution has an old forest called “The Woods.” Jack and I explored this forest, which is a rather small stand of hardwoods around a ravine with much Beech, Sugar Maple, Black Cherry, and some other trees like Tuliptree and Cucumber Magnolia. The trees do not look very old, not very large or tall, and the largest trees in the Woods seem to have fallen. Some of the fallen logs were really old – I counted 186 rings on a 10” radius cross-section of a fallen Sugar Maple log, and 265 rings, an extraordinary age, on the 13” radius cross-section of a fallen Beech log. This forest should probably best be considered as secondary old growth, a forest that started out as original old growth, but with all the old pre-settlement trees dead and fallen. The oldest standing trees today are possibly about 150 years old. I measured the following trees in the Woods:

Height 95.5 ft.

Black Cherry:
Height 102.4 ft.

Tuliptree down slope:
Height 115 ft. – tallest tree seen at Chautauqua Institution

The most impressive tree we saw at Chautauqua was in Miller Park, one of the oldest parts of Chautauqua, an open park with several large Sugar Maples. In the midst of the Sugar Maples was the most impressive tree, a big open-grown Cucumber Magnolia, 44” dbh, utterly massive with its crown filled with huge tropical-looking leaves; it is about 80 ft. tall, but seems taller.

Chautauqua is a fantastic place, a great site for culture and trees.

I am enclosing 3 pictures of Chautauqua. The first 2 pictures show Chautauqua's Literary area, and the last shows a typical street scene.

On the next day, Aug. 20, Jack and I were guided by Ed Frank to the most magnificent trees we’ve ever seen in the Northeast, the great White Pines of Cook Forest.

Tom Howard
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