Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp

Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
see also Lily Dale Assembly

The first notable meeting of Spiritualists in Florida took place in January 1893, at DeLeon Springs, Volusia County. It was organized by the National Spiritual and Liberal Association and a thousand people attended. Harrison D. Barrett, of Lily Dale, New York, called the meeting to order, welcomed everyone, and then introduced the main speaker, medium George P. Colby. Mrs. M. C. Thomas of Ohio was another speaker. The meeting was a huge success and the local residents and storekeepers invited the Spiritualists to set up a permanent site there for their winter gatherings. Considering it, a committee appointed by the Spiritualists’ association also visited various other locations, such as Daytona, St. Petersburg, St. Augustine, Tampa, and Tarpon Springs. The board finally settled on the DeLeon Springs site—especially when John B. and H. H. Clough donated twenty-five acres of land to the association. However, George P. Colby entered the picture a little later to offer his land, which was six miles from DeLeon.

Colby had been living in Wisconsin twenty years earlier, when his spirit guide Seneca had advised him to travel to the south and establish a major Spiritualist center there. He went to Florida and in the course of his searching, fell into a trance and was led by spirit guides to the place he was to purchase. In 1880, he filed a homestead claim for seventy-five acres and was granted the land four years later. When he offered it to the National Spiritual and Liberal Association for their permanent home, mediums Emma J. Huff and Marion Skidmore went to view it. They played crucial roles in the founding of Lily Dale Assembly. On their recommendation, Colby’s land was chosen for the site of the new Spiritualist community. A non-profit stock company was formed and named the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association (named for the lake at Lily Dale, New York).

On February 8, 1895, the very first meeting was held in Colby’s home, and more than 100 people went to that three-day event. From there the community grew. In March of 1897 an auditorium was added to the collection of buildings that had sprung up. By 1900, the Webster Sanitarium had joined them, along with the Cassadaga Hotel.

According to John J. Guthrie, “By 1910 the Cassadaga Assembly had become much more than a series of tent meetings. Many fine cottages, as well as an auditorium, the pavilion, Harmony Hall, and other structures that accommodated the winter season, all stood as monuments to the efforts of early Cassadagans to fulfill Colby’s dream of establishing a ‘Spiritualist Mecca’ in Florida.”

Sources:

Guthrie, John J. Jr.; Phillip Charles Lucas; and Gary Monroe (eds): Cassadaga: the South’s Oldest Spiritualist Community. University Press of Florida, 2000