Hidden away in northwestern New York state is a quiet hamlet named Lily Dale. The idyllic community, composed of Victorian homes and uniquely decorated cottages, overlooks the east side of Cassadaga Lake. At first glance, it would appear to be a vacationer’s paradise, but the entrance sign, “City of Light,” reveals its true origins. Lily Dale is the largest community of Spiritualists in the country.

The seeds of Lily Dale were planted in 1844, when William Johnson invited a mesmerist named Dr. Moran from Vermont to come to Laona, NY to lecture. After the visit, Johnson and his group began to experiment with Dr. Moran’s techniques. Group member, Jeremiah Carter, became entranced. Through him, a Dr. Hedges spoke to those present. He gave messages from the spirit world and practiced laying on of hands. After spiritual communication was established in Hydesville, NY by the Fox sisters, the Laona group was encouraged to continue.  They formed the First Spiritualist Society of Laona in 1855.

In 1873, Jeremiah Carter was encouraged by spirits to hold a camp meeting at the nearby farm of Willard Alden (located just outside the gates of the present Lily Dale). The group met there for summer picnics and camp meetings until Alden’s passing in 1879. It was then that the group purchased 20 acres of the land on an adjoining property.

Men and women worked to clear the area and make forest trails. They had financial problems but were not deterred. A Lyceum formed in 1881, and a permanent auditorium that would seat 1200 was built in 1883. The camp went through several name changes until 1906 when it was named The Lily Dale Assembly because of the abundance of lilies on the lake.

Marion Skidmore, daughter of William Johnson, was one of the main founders of Lily Dale. She was an ardent advocate for women’s suffrage, a liberal thinker, and friend of Susan B. Anthony. Her collection of books formed the foundation for the Marion Skidmore Library in Lily Dale, the world’s largest collection of Spiritualist and psychic books.

Today, Lily Dale is a community of over 160 private residences, two hotels, guest houses, bookstores, two eateries and a café. Between the last weekend in June and Labor Day, for a small admission fee, visitors can attend many events. They include medium demonstrations, religious services, workshops, thought exchange meetings and healing services. There are also areas for camping, picnicking, swimming and hiking.

Additional seminars are offered on mediumships, spiritualist studies and related topics. Well-known guests have included Deepak Chopra, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and John Edward.

For more information on Lily Dale’s History:


  1. I have the most loveliest memories of Lily Dale. When I lived in New Jersey, I got to visit Lily Dale often for a week at a time. I met great friends and loved being on the land. I miss being near there now, but those memories fill my soul!

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