Chautauqua County is celebrating its bicentennial this year with a number of events to commemorate the county's 200 years.
Chautauqua County was established on Feb. 9, 1811. Back then, it had only two towns, Chautauqua and Pomfret. The county was named after Chautauqua Lake, whose name comes from the Native American word Jad-da'gwah (possible loose translation: "bag tied in the middle," referring to the pinched shape of the lake).
The bicentennial kicked off in February with County Legislators Larry Barmore and Ron Lemon re-enacting the first meeting of the board of supervisors. On that same day, all mail processed in the 36 post offices in Chautauqua County was stamped with a commemorative postage cancellation.
Visitors can start their tour of Chautauqua history at the McClurg Museum (www.mcclurgmuseum.org) in Westfield, which is home to the Chautauqua County Historical Society. Irish-born James McClurg, a former cannon maker and local merchant, was a wealthy man and, unlike most settlers in this area who built simple log homes, he wanted a more stately home for his family. He built the 16-room mansion in 1818. When the last of McClurg's descendants died, the home was left to the Village of Westfield to be used as a public building. It now contains displays of items from the Historical Society's collection.
The Historical Society and McClurg Museum will be highlighting 200 historically significant individuals from Chautauqua County in one-minute biographies featured on local radio stations. The biographies, both audio and text, also will be posted on the museum's website.
> Passport to history
The county is promoting a Bicentennial passport contest, which features 16 historical sites or events and can be purchased for $2 at the McClurg Museum (Westfield), Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse, Findley Lake and Mina Historical Society, Clymer Area Historical Society and the Chautauqua County Visitors' Bureau (at the Chautauqua Institution main gate).
The purpose is to get people to visit sites on the passport: the McClurg Museum, Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse, Findley Lake Historical Society, Clymer Historical Society, Yorker Museum, Sinclairville Historical Society and the Fenton History Center in Jamestown. Also included are the following events: Two Towns-Two Centuries Celebration in Mayville, Bemus Point-Stow Ferry Bicentennial Celebration, Ashville Day, Chautauqua County Bicentennial Historical Fair, Chautauqua County Antique Equipment Show, Miller Bell Tower Celebration at Chautauqua Institution, Festival of Grapes in Silver Creek, Busti Historical Society Apple Festival and the Harmony Historical Society Harvest Festival.
Visitors who go to at least six of the sites by Nov. 1 and have their passport stamped are eligible for a prize drawing, which includes a computer, weekend party at a Cherry Creek B&B, 55-inch television and gate passes to the Chautauqua Institution. Grand prize is a family season ski pass from Peak 'N Peak resort and a weekend stay.
Another fundraiser is the sale of commemorative bicentennial lapel pins, available for $5 at the county historian's office or the county clerk's office.
> Special events
Chautauqua County is holding a number of bicentennial events this summer, including a July 4 celebration in Mayville, featuring the largest parade in the county and displays in Lakeside Park. The day will end with a fireworks display.
A Bicentennial History Fair will take place at the Chautauqua Suites Meeting and Expo Center in Mayville in August, with more than 50 historical organizations and local historians. There will be military re-enactors for the French and Indian War, War of 1812, the Civil War and World War II. On display will be the 9th New York Cavalry's original reunion banner from 1883. This free event will take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 13 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 14.
Check out the Facebook page for www.amazingcounty.com for a complete list of events. You can also contact Chautauqua County Historian Michelle Henry at 753-4857.
> More milestones
The county is not the only entity celebrating 200 years this year. The Bemus Point-Stow Ferry, which has been in continuous operation since 1811, crosses the narrow point of Chautauqua Lake, between Bemus Point and Stow. A special celebration commemorating the ferry will take place July 8-10, with antique boats, cars and motorcycles; a historical baseball game; and of course, ferry rides. A related event, a Bicentennial Dinner Dance, is planned for July 23 at the Casino at Bemus Point, with proceeds to benefit the ferry. More information can be found at www.sealionprojectltd.com.
Celebrating 100 years this year is the Miller Bell Tower on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. It was dedicated in August 1911 as a memorial to Chautauqua founder Lewis Miller. On Aug. 21 at 1 p.m., there will be a special celebration of the bell tower's 100 years. Included will be fun family activities and cupcakes for everyone. Admission to the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution is free on Sundays.
> If you go:
Chautauqua County Visitors' Bureau, Route 394 (at the main gate of the Chautauqua Institution), Chautauqua (866-908-4569, www.tourchautauqua.com).
McClurg Museum, Routes 394 and 20, Westfield (326-2977, www.mcclurgmuseum.org)
Chautauqua County Historian's Office, 1 N. Erie St., Mayville (753-4857); same address for Chautauqua County Clerk's Office (753-4331)