By Margot Russell
The timeless tradition of driving the entire way around Chautauqua Lake has been a favorite pastime of area residents for generations.
There’s not a whole lot of planning involved: you just pile in the car when the colors of fall start to turn and have your car pointed towards 56 miles of sightseeing. You can plan your stops ahead of time or simply just go with the flow. Remember the operative word here is “leisurely.”
There’s something wonderful about seeing the lake from different viewpoints—-in higher elevations on the north side, past quaint towns and villages, old rural farmsteads and a century-old amusement park. It’s possible to find charm in nearly every place you look.
You can start your drive around the lake anywhere you like, but for the sake of ease, this tour starts at the Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron, travels north along the western shoreline of Chautauqua Lake towards Mayville, and returns along the eastern shoreline.
There are ten planned stops on this route, but the possibilities are endless. You’ll find farm stands, art galleries, gift shops and many restaurants along the way. Be as creative and adventurous as time allows.
First Stop: Lucille Ball Memorial Park: Celoron
Near the intersection of Jones & Gifford Avenue and Dunham Avenue along the lake in the village of Celoron.
With its expansive view of Burtis Bay, the Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron is the perfect place to get your bearings. In the late 1800’s, it was home to an expansive and wildly popular amusement park, but today it’s a lovely place for families to gather and for kids to play. The park is named in honor of Lucille Ball—the Village of Celoron’s most famous resident. Lucy grew up in Celoron and worked at the park. This is a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning as you begin your drive. Be sure to check out the new bronze statue of Lucy!
From the park in Celoron, exit onto Dunham Ave., make a right on Livingston Ave., a left on Jackson Ave., and a right on Lakeside Blvd. Bare right onto East Terrace Avenue after the Rod & Gun Club. Hartley Park is 1.4 miles down the street on your right at the first stop sign.
Second Stop: Hartley Park Lakewood
The tree-lined streets in the Village of Lakewood boast beautiful fall color. Once a tract of farmland owned by the Holland Land Company, the village came to play host to several grand hotels during Chautauqua Lake’s resort heyday in the late 1800’s. Visitors would arrive by train and disembark at the Lakewood train depot. Many of the beautiful homes in the village are proud symbols of this gilded era. Hartley Park was once the site of several grand hotels and a country club. Be sure to read the informational plaques along the sidewalk facing the park to get a glimpse of the lake’s golden era.
Upon leaving the park, go up Chautauqua Ave. (which is perpendicular to the park) one mile to the stop light. Take a right on NY Route 394 (also called Fairmount Avenue) and travel 7 miles to the Stow Ferry Road. Make a right just past the bridge entrance and drive down Stow Ferry Road to the end.
Third Stop: Bemus Point Stow Ferry
This is a picturesque place to stop and look at the narrow point of the lake, which is, not surprisingly, called the “the narrows” and lies between the hamlet of Stow to the south and Bemus Point to the north.
The Native Americans used to cross this point by canoe but a ferry service was started by one of the area’s first European settlers in 1811. The beloved small wooden car ferry still operates in the warmer months, but its main purpose has been largely replaced by the interstate highway bridge which was first opened to traffic in 1982—and to a bit of controversy at the time from residents who thought the bridge would detract from the lake’s aesthetic appeal.
Check out the working lighthouse at the end of the road or stretch your legs at Tom’s Point Wildlife Management Area which has a walking trail. You will have passed it on your left on your way down Stow Ferry Road with a parking area across from the Post Office building.
Drive back up Stow Ferry Road, take a right onto Route 394 and drive 2.5 miles to Reverie Creamery. You’ll find it on your left hand side and just across from Camp Chautauqua.
Fourth Stop: Reverie Creamery
A new addition to the area’s points of interest, this wonderful shop produces its own delicious gourmet cheese with ingredients sourced from local producers. They also have other local treats for sale like organic honey or wooden cheese boards made by a Bemus Point artist.
Buy a wedge of cheese and some crackers for the ride or for a mini picnic later on in the trip.
Exit Reverie Creamery by making left onto Route 394 and drive 3.5 miles to Chautauqua Institution. Park at the Main Gate Welcome Center on your right or drive into the grounds. There is additional parking on the left, across from the Main Gate.
Fifth Stop: Chautauqua Institution
This revered cultural institution is known for its nine-week summer session that brings learning, art, music, lectures and performance to its dedicated summer residents and visitors.
There is simply no place like Chautauqua and a stop here offers a lovely walk through charming 19th century streets with fairytale cottages, a stately Victorian era hotel and beautiful trees and gardens.
Admission is free after the program season ends in August.
Take a right out of the Institution and travel 4 miles to Mayville. If you plan to stop at Webb’s Resort, it’s a mile before the Village of Mayville on your left and easily spotted by car.
Sixth Stop: Mayville
This charming little village is the county seat and is located right at the head of Chautauqua Lake.
Just 8 miles from Lake Erie, the village is tied to the “portage trail” which throughout history was an important route linking Chautauqua and Erie Lakes. Mayville was also once an important regional rail center.
You’ll find some terrific places to stop for lunch, but be sure to check out Webb’s Resort located just before you reach the village on your left. It’s a great pit stop for homemade fudge or a little browsing in their unique and welcoming home goods store. They also have a restaurant called the Captain’s Table with generously proportioned sandwiches, soups and fresh salads.
If you’re exiting Webb’s, take a left onto Route 394 and continue on for 1 mile until you reach Mayville. If you’re not stopping in the Village of Mayville, take a right on Lakeview Avenue—located one mile on your right after leaving Webb’s. Travel .09 miles and then take a right on NY Route 430. Travel 4.3 miles and make a right on Leet Avenue which will bring you into Point Chautauqua. If you plan to visit Mayville’s Village center, turn right at the stoplight onto Route 430 and continue as noted above.
Seventh Stop: Point Chautauqua Dewittville
Point Chautauqua was made famous by influential landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead in the 19th century who was hired to develop a master landscape plan for the neighborhood. It’s worth taking a drive around where you’ll see that many of the trademark landscape elements Olmstead was known for are still evident—like the curving and scenic roadways.
Point Chautauqua is listed on the state and national Register of Historic Places and offers a lovely and scenic spin around the neighborhood.
Find your way back to Leet Ave. and make a right on Route 430. Travel 5.5 miles to Long Point State Park on your right.
Eighth Stop: Long Point State Park
A beautiful park featuring a beach, marina and picnic pavilions, Long Point is a perfect place to stop when the leaves are alight with color. It’s full of woods and scenic views of the lake.
Once a popular steamboat destination and a railroad stop, the land here had various owners until it was deeded to the state in 1954. There is no fee for admittance outside of summer months.
This is a nice spot for a picnic or just a great place to stretch your legs.
Exit the park, taking a right on Route 430. In less than 1 mile, bear right towards the Bemus Point sign, then take a right on Center Street. When you reach a flashing red light in .05 miles, look for a place to park near this three-way intersection and spend some time walking around the village.
Ninth Stop: Bemus Point
A bustling village in the summer months, Bemus Point is home to several popular restaurants, a grand old hotel and a lot of history. You’ll want to park along Main Street and stroll along the lake on this stop.
The Ellicottville Brewing Company on Chautauqua is an excellent choice for a cold beer or an appetizer. They’re open throughout the fall season—just for dinner on weekdays and lunch and dinner from Thursday to Sunday.
Also check out Skillman’s—a historic village store with clothing and home goods—and just one of many shops in the village. Skillman’s fall hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday-Sunday.
If you get there before October 2nd, stop by the Village Casino located at the end of the Lakeside Drive and close to the Lenhart Hotel. The Casino has quite a bit of history and the plethora of pictures on the wall are a testament to the Casino’s heyday, when celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Buddy Holiday performed to crowds in the 1950’s. They’ve got some of the best chicken wings around and a wonderful view both inside and outside on their waterside deck.
Exit Bemus Point by going up Main Street—the main thoroughfare in the village. Look for Route 430 (being careful not to cross the bridge by veering onto I-86—the Southern Tier Expressway. Continue to follow Route 430 for 10 miles. Look for Peterson’s Market on your left.
Tenth Stop: Peterson’s Farm Stand
You’ll be shopping like a local when you wander through this farm stand to look for pumpkins and apples. It’s been a mandatory stop for residents in the area for generations who come for the Scandinavian-inspired treats, gifts and in-season fruits and vegetables that hail from the owner’s 100-year-old farm. Two favorite treats are the thin ginger-like Swedish cookies and the ever popular Swedish fish candy.
From here, follow Route 430 to Route 60 back into Jamestown to finish your trip around the lake. For further adventures, Jamestown has some wonderful possibilities including the Lucille Ball -Desi Arnaz Museum and a line-up of delicious restaurants.
For help in planning your trip and for more suggestions on places to stop, shop and dine, visit the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau or call 866-908-4569 to request a free travel guide and map.
Author Margot Russell is a journalist and freelance writer whose column “Lakewood Lens” appears in the Jamestown Post-Journal on Saturday. She is a script writer for the History Channel and an International Tour Director. She recently moved back to the area and lives in Lakewood.