Laona Free Associatio

Laona Free Associatio

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In Laona, New York, an organization called “The Religious Society of Free Thinkers” was flourishing in 1855. Records state that the society “did assemble on the third day of December, 1855, and did elect seven discreet persons … as trustees.” At that same meeting, it was decided to rename the organization “The Laona Free Association.” It was to eventually grow into the Lily Dale Assembly that still operates in that location today.

Many well known people attended the Laona Free Association meetings. In 1871, the Spiritualists began holding picnics and then camp meetings at Middle Lake in the Cassadaga Lakes. The well known orator Lyman C. Howe spoke at the first gathering. On August 23, 1879, following a disagreement with the original owners of the land where the camp meetings usually took place, a meeting was held at which it was decided to “organize a corporate body under the New York laws.” A board of trustees was named and Mrs. Amelia H. Colby was invited to name the new organization. She suggested calling it “The Cassadaga Lake Free Association.” This was adopted and the necessary papers were signed.

The grounds were dedicated in 1880 and became one of the most important spiritualist camps in the United States. Summer cottages, hotels, and some permanent homes were built to house the adherents of Spiritualism. Later speakers included such people as Susan B. Anthony, Rev. Anna Shaw, and Robert G. Ingersoll. When Ingersoll lectured in 1896, 20,000 persons thronged the grounds to hear him. The colony grew to become a self-contained community with its own post office, fire house, electric plant, and numerous stores.

Sources:

Vogt, Paula M. and Joyce LaJudice: Lily Dale Proud Beginnings: A Little Bit of History. Lily Dale: Lily Dale Museum, 1984
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