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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The SLI Auditorium Seated 2,000 Plus 500 Seat Choir in Front; Sometimes 1,000 extra Chairs were Needed

Three-quarters of the auditorium, also known as amphitheater, is shown above, with the first quarter mostly out of the picture to the right. It consisted of a section which was much more enclosed than the open air section of the main seating area. The outer edges of the rows of pews can be seen from the outside.

Just a few weeks back, some old historical narratives were recently discovered in the Cornelia A Greene Library on Main St., in Castile by SLI resident Fred Schuknecht. Most were seen in local newspaper articles from 1911. They were reporting on the massively sized programs that were presented during the years surrounding 1910 at the then-Silver Lake Assembly, now Silver Lake Institute (SLI). 

Cornelia A. Greene Library, Castile, New York
The programs had just recently been revived following the devastating results of the so-called "Cleveland Depression" on the Silver Lake Assembly. The Assembly had nearly gone bankrupt during the downturn in the economy which began for the Assembly in the last few years of the 1890s and extended five or more years into the 1900s. Around 1906, Rev. Stoody used his own funds to purchase the properties which had gone into foreclosure and lent them back to the Assembly to resell. He was determined to get the Assembly back on its feet and re-establish its programming as quickly as possible. This he did with the help of many others. 

Even though his efforts were less than three or four years old, they produced absolutely amazing results. The old Assembly Auditorium, located in what is now Bishop Burt Park, used to be filled with around 2,000 guests plus choirs as large as 500. Following the revival brought about by Rev. Stoody and some dynamic advertising, the old Assembly Auditorium was now drawing 3,000 guests in addition to the 500 member choirs. Can you imagine setting up 1,000 extra chairs? As long as it wasn't raining, the task of extra chairs worked well on the sides and back of the auditorium.

Early arrivals get an early look at the program set-up before it begins. A worker can be seen still making adjustments to the printed sign on the distant left hand side of the front. Those early electrical lights, which replaced the kerosene lamps, appear to be far more effective than some of the lighting we continue to use today.
Natural light was important during the days before the electric had been extended onto the Assembly grounds. More light came through the center roof windows (see photo #1 above). The front windows were eliminated when the enclosed front section was expanded, more than double in size. It is not certain whether that was done before or after electricity was extended to the auditorium.

The 1918 arson of the auditorium was a terrible loss from which the Assembly never recovered. The programming of the 1920s, though still vigorous and very well attended, had to adjust to the smaller facilities of Epworth Hall for their main gatherings. Luckily, the Sunday School Association's needs were somewhat different and a very large auditorium was not essential. Back then, many of the cottages within the grounds were utilized for guests attending the special summer events.

The Assembly was officially renamed Institute within two years of the fire, since the facilities no longer accommodated the Chautauqua style. Fortunately, the Epworth Inn (formerly the Hall of Philosophy) had been returned to the Assembly shortly after the fire. Hoag Memorial and the W.C.T.U. building, later renamed Stoody Chapel, then Stoody Memorial, were also still available to the Institute following the dramatic fire. Two young boys, 8 and 10, from one of the rentals on the grounds were found to be responsible for the fire. We were still a gated community at that point.
A special 100th Anniversary Event "remembering" the Loss of the Auditorium is being planned for a Sunday morning during the 2018 Season on the exact location of the old auditorium in Burt Park opposite Ames Avenue. We are hoping to spend about two (2) hours in early 1900 period clothing for the worship service and then for a time of refreshments and fellowship, all of which are open to the public beginning at 10:30 am. Watch for the date this Spring.

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