The Chautauqua Society of History and Natural Sciences (CCHS today) was founded on July 19, 1883 on the shores of Chautauqua Lake. Its eleven founding members represented the cultural elite of their time - doctors, lawyers, professors, jurists and businessmen. They realized that Chautauqua County enjoyed an illustrious past that was in danger of being forgotten. They recorded local history, published original research and shared their work with each other. And they began collecting important artifacts that formed the core of the CCHS collection on display today at the McClurg Museum in Westfield, NY. Much of the founder's original research can be referenced in the archives of the museum library. What was it about Chautauqua County history that inspired such devotion?
Long before the first white man came to the county, various tribes of Native Americans hunted in the unbroken forests and fished in the plentiful lakes and streams. When the French passed through the area in the mid-eighteenth century, they traveled the trails that Indians had used for years. The Portage Trail is the most famous of these. It was used by the French to transport goods from Lake Erie to Chautauqua Lake, and from there down river to forts and trading posts in the interior.
The period between 1800 and the Civil War brought tremendous growth and change to the area. Dense forests were cut and the timber was sold. Cleared land was purchased by a generation of immigrant farmers who came from New England, eastern New York and Pennsylvania. Settlers bought land from the Holland Land Company, which had acquired all of Western New York from Robert Morris, the "financier of the Revolutionary War". Starting in 1802, county towns and villages were established and developed in response to the growing populations need for goods and services.
The coming of the railroad in 1851 transformed the economic landscape. Faster transport and the growing movement west expanded the market for Chautauqua County farm goods and manufactured products. The discovery of oil in the county and surrounding areas in 1859 also had a tremendous impact on the local economy. It created rich men and paupers almost overnight.
During the Civil War approximately 4,400 men from the county responded to Abraham Lincoln's call to save the union. Some three thousand survived the war experience, though many were permanently disabled. The thoughts, feelings and experiences of soldiers off to war and their families left behind were captured in diaries and letters to and from the front. Many records from the Civil War period remain in the CCHS collection at the McClurg.
In the decades immediately following the Civil War, there was a general thirst for self- improvement. In the county, The Chautauqua Assembly, The Lakeside Assembly in Findley Lake and Lily Dale were all local manifestations of a national impulse. The founding of the Chautauqua County Historical Society in 1883 was just such a manifestation. Its founders focused their research on science, natural history and recording their pride of place. Since the beginning, county residents, society members and historians have continued the founder's vision and generously contributed time, research and family objects to CCHS. In 1951, the society found a home for its growing collection when the family home of James McClurg in Westfield became the McClurg Museum. The society's accomplishments over its proud history reflect the commitment of many to the ideals of the founders who recognized the value of preserving Chautauqua County's legacy. County residents owe a debt of gratitude for the vision and sheer determination of these founders of the Chautauqua County Historical Society:
Professor Samuel G. Love, President
William C. J. Hall
Dr. William W. Henderson
Judge L. Bugbee
Hon. Obed Edson, Chairman
Dr. Ai Waterhouse
Judge Daniel Sherman
John A. Hall
Dr. Charles Parker
Dr. Horace C. Taylor
Location: Moore Park / NYS Rts 394 & 20 / Westfield, NY Hours: Open all year / Tues-Sat 10 - 4 / Admission $5 - Children free Mail: CCHS / Post Office Box 7 / Westfield, NY 14787 Phone: 716-326-2977 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org