This year marks the 100th year since the end of the Amphitheatre Era (1888-1918) on the Silver Lake Assembly Grounds. The Amphitheatre was located in the prime section then known as "Auditorium Park" which is now known as Bishop Burt Park. The Era ended by way of two young arsonists who managed to totally destroy the Assembly's huge outdoor shelter (also known as the Auditorium) through the use of dry leaves and matches.
Today's Worship Committee realizes the importance and value of a heritage/history and wants to recognize this obviously significant time as they bring all members and friends of the Institute together to celebrate the place and one another. It seems equally appropriate to attempt to coordinate with the leadership of the Pioneer Cabin & Museum campus since both were established within a few years of each other in the early-to-mid 1870s. The Committee is polling its membership this weekend asking for their input. They would like to invite the Presbyterian Church of Perry since their pastor is retiring this spring.
Not all programs and spiritual benefits can be measured by numbers. The Silver Lake Institute and the Asbury Camp & Retreat Center agree on this and work hard for two years to sponsor the biennial "Silver Lake Experience" which is inspirationally referred to as the SLI Renaissance. Number-wise it continues to grow. Quality-wise, it has always been on top, due to the efforts of amazing local and not-so-local volunteers. Some day they will speak of these current years as being yet another period of good times for the Silver Lake Institute.
The Amphitheatre-Auditorium construction was finished in time for the 1888 Season and ushered in four brand new additions--(1) the Auditorium itself, (2) the Chautauqua style of lectures and classes, (3) a special effort to beautify the Assembly Grounds prior to the opening of the 1888 Season, and (4) the new informal name of "Silver Lake Chautauqua Assembly." That informal name could not, however, become official because it was felt that the Assembly charter had to reflect our connection to the denominational ties (Silver Lake Assembly of the Genesee Conference Methodist-Episcopal Church).
The brand new Auditorium ushered in the first of several big attendance years under the new teaching methods and course contents of the Chautauqua movement. By the time of the demise of the Auditorium, the attendance had suffered significantly because of the broad reaches of the so-called "Cleveland Depression" which caused many of the Assembly properties to become foreclosed upon. The Rev. John Stoody was not only instrumental in setting up financing which got the Assembly back on its feet but also worked closely with the then-president (Rev. Webster) to rebuild the programming beginning with the establishment of the first Epworth League Conference in 1908.
The Auditorium had just received a refurbishing when it was destroyed which made the pain of loss even harder to deal with since recent efforts had just been donated to update and polish up the facility. It's hard to imagine numbers such as the Auditorium accommodated (2,500 to the overflow of one year's 3,000 attendees), but things were different then. There were more boarding houses available, more renting of rooms in private cottages, more tents still in use, and for a short while the Epworth Inn was run by a Buffalo hotel company. There was also a cooperative spirit among the Methodist-Episcopals in Perry Village including boarding places there also.