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A "Dale" By Any Other Name

BY THE REV. SANDRA PFORTMILLER, NST

 - Cassadaga Lakes Free Association - City of Light - Lily Dale - Lily Dale Assembly


How would one describe Lily Dale?  It is a beautiful small religious community filled with caring, friendly Spiritualists who have a loving respect for life, others, Infinite Spirit, and who believe that life continues after death of the physical, with communication possible from the other side of the veil. The beautiful natural grounds and the Victorian homes bring our thoughts back to an earlier setting in time. In fact, even to a different name.

What's in a name? Well, a Spiritualist Camp called Lily Dale Assembly is the world's largest Spiritualist community. It reminds us of the early days of the religion when thousands of people flocked to "the Dale" to learn of spirit and receive communication from beyond the veil. The history of Free Thinkers in the area began long before the founding date, but it has been a Spiritualist and educational community since "1879, when members of the Spiritualist church in Laona, New York, purchased 18 acres of land and founded a Religious Membership Corporation called the Cassadaga Lakes Free Association." The Centennial Book.

The search for the history of the name did not find just one name, it surfaced lots of interesting stories about the early years. The Alden family, Willard and Corintha with son, Theodore, and daughter, Theodosia, owned the land where the Leolyn Hotel now stands, and began Spiritualist picnics and camp meetings. Picnics and camps were fashioned after Sunday School picnics and camp meetings held by some of the religions of the day.

Mrs. Alden was given the honor of naming the grounds or camp when a permanent location was purchased. Her choice in 1897 was Cassadaga Lakes Free Association. The name was changed to the City of Light Assembly in 1903 and to the Lily Dale Assembly in 1906. Some history accounts say the last change was inspired because of the lilies that grew around the Cassadaga Lakes. In fact, the Middle Cassadaga Lake was sometimes referred to as Lily Dale.

A few have even speculated about a very active couple in early Spiritualism who lived at "the Dale." They were John T. Lillie and his wife, R. Shepard Lillie. In fact, Mr. Lillie (who was the general supervisor of the vocal music because of his fine baritone voice with a tenor quality) was also active in Spiritualism on the National level, as well as at the Camp. However, not many believe the camp was named after them, or after the Victorian parlor song that was popular around that time which talked about a lady, poor Lilly Dale, dying.

The railway stop was called Lilly Dale, and when a post office was established in the area on June 27, 1888, it was also spelled Lilly Dale, with a double L. It took until 1927 to get the Lilly Dale postal name officially changed to Lily Dale.

The City of Light Assembly name did not begin because of the spiritual light found at the Dale, although there is an abundance of energy, but because the camp was the first city in the area to get electric lights. Lily Dale became a city, quite self sufficient with its own water, own fire department, own roads which were made, plowed or repaired by crews from the camp, etc.

During the research, I found Lily Dale referred to as "the Great Spiritual Mecca." After spending some time there, I can see why. The Camp's grounds, now 167 acres, are a place of peace and renewal located on the shores of Cassadaga Lake, with a variety of natural beauty lovely sunsets and the majestic Leolyn Woods. Of course, to visit Lily Dale, one must also see the swans, Lily and Dale.

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