Rural Life in Chautaqua County New York

Chautaqua County, New York: the seventh in a series on the best sections of North America in which to pursue rural life, including population, jobs and crime, real estate and taxes, and education and health.

| November/December 1987

Cream of the country: Chautaqua County, New York. The continuing series of the best sections of America to live a rural lifestyle.  (See the photos of Chautaqua County, New York in the image gallery.)

Rural Life in Chautaqua County New York

After a late June day of 83 degree heat and high humidity in Chautaqua County, New York, it's cool and, appropriately, nearing dusk when I arrive at Lily Dale, the world's largest spiritualist community, alongside mirror-smooth Cassadaga Lake. Just inside the white wood gate, the directory of "Registered Mediums" tells me where to go within the tidy hamlet of small, maple-shaded Victorian homes. And there at No.10 Third Street, I have an hour-long "reading" with psychic Barbara Conner and her spirit guide, Father David. I hear many promising things, not only about myself—an artistic, blue-green aura surrounding my hands, a new career opportunity within the year and a journey to a cool-climated foreign nation within 18 months (expenses paid, I'd like to believe)—but about the future economic fortunes of Chautauqua County as well.

"A lot of people feel it's just dead here, but I don't," Conner says. "I see a turnaround. Nothing earth shattering, but a definite swing back to about the way it was in the 1950s. Except it won't be big industry this time; it'll be small business. I can't tell exactly what kind. But the cost of living is low here, and anyone with the proper skills and a good business sense is going to make it. "And," she concludes,

"I see you being drawn very strongly to the county. It could be through a spiritual connection, or it could be through an economic opportunity.

"Now that I've been told about my own possible connection with the area, I'm pleased to hear of the impending turnaround. Today, however, it's clear, even to me without psychic insight, that Chautauqua, New York State's westernmost county, is enduring a period of trouble and uncertainty along with much of the rest of the Great Lakes region. The area's once powerful industrial complex, centered around steel and autos, that formerly filled local government treasuries and offered starting blue-collar incomes of $22,000 a year, is now crumbling.

Tourism, the county's "other industry," is drawn largely by the fine artistic and cultural programs of world-famous Chautauqua Institution (which hosts 10,000 visitors a day for summer programs of drama and music, as well as theological and political debates) and by the geographic good fortune of picturesque, 22-mile-long Lake Chautauqua and a 40-mile Lake Erie shoreline on the county's northwest border. Restaurant meals, motel rentals, fishing charters and antique sales bring in roughly $3 billion each year (almost exclusively in summertime), mainly from the nearest and biggest cities, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Buffalo and Toronto.

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