The second half of the 19th century was a time when progressive ideas and religious movements took hold in the United States. In the 1870s, a group of Spiritualists and Liberals began to meet in Laona, NY to discuss their beliefs and to practice healing and mediumship. They began to meet at the nearby Alden farm, eventually expanding their day-long conferences into lengthier summer gatherings. In 1879 the Spiritualist Society of Laona purchased 20 acres along Cassadaga Lake to found what would later become known as the Lily Dale Assembly. As time went on, this Spiritualist camp became a strong community.
As the Spiritualist movement grew, more people were drawn to Lily Dale. An increasing amount of events and activities brought more and more visitors. In 1880 the hotel that is now known as the Maplewood Hotel was built, overlooking Cassadaga Lake, to accommodate the crowds expected for the camp meeting. Lily Dale became a stop on the Dunkirk, Allegheny Valley and Pittsburg railway in 1871, resulting in further expansion of the community.
A permanent auditorium for services and meetings was built in 1883. It was remodeled in 1901 with a seating capacity of 1,200. A variety of other buildings were built in the 1880s and 1890s, including the Octagon Building, the Assembly Hall, the Pagoda, the Forest Temple, the Post Office, and various cottages. The Assembly Hall contained the Lily Dale library until the Marion H. Skidmore Library was built in 1924. In 1928 the Andrew Jackson Davis Lyceum was built to house the Spiritualist Sunday School, in which children six and older were taught about Spiritualism. It was named after the preeminent American Spiritualist Davis, who was an early proponent of Spiritualism.
By 1894 there were over 200 cottages, with about 40 families living on the grounds year-round. As the practice of Spiritualism gained notoriety, well-known figures began to visit Lily Dale, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mae West, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi, and suffragette Susan B. Anthony.
The dominant architectural style in Lily Dale is Victorian, as many of the buildings and homes were built in the late 1800s. The beautiful Victorian style of the buildings transports the visitor back to an earlier time in American history.
All land in Lily Dale is owned by the Assembly, but houses can be purchased as leasehold properties. To own a house in Lily Dale, the buyer must be a member of the Lily Dale Assembly. One of the qualifications for Assembly membership is being a part of a recognized Spiritualist church for at least one year. In this way, the Lily Dale community remains true to its Spiritualist philosophy.
Lily Dale Community slideshow
In this series, we explore different facets of Lily Dale Assembly and Spiritualism:
- How the World’s Largest Spiritualist Center Came to Be
- Home of America’s Oldest Pet Cemetery
- Spiritualist Practices in the 19th and 20th Centuries
- Walking the Fairy Trail
- 19th Century Reform and Revival in Western New York
- Architecture and Community-building
- Leolyn Woods and Being One with Nature