The usual account as to how Volusia County’s Spiritualist camp got its start is that it was founded in 1894 by George P. Colby. This is true, but the rest of an intriguing story as to how CASSADAGA, a unique sort of CitrusLAND Ghost Town, came to be wouldn’t be complete without mention as well of a fellow named Luther Colby, the legendary AmeliaColby Luther, and a lake in western New York named LakeCASSADAGA.
“What I saw at CASSADAGA Lake, 1888,” was authored by a Pennsylvania Attorney, writing of experiences not at Florida’s CASSADAGA Spiritualist Camp on Volusia County’s ColbyLake, rather atCASSADAGA Spiritualist camp of New York.
Two CASSADAGA camps, one in Florida and the other in New York, share a history of Spiritualism dating to the 19 century. Both camps share as well a family’s history, that of the #Colby family.
CASSADAGA Lake Free Association of New York was established August 26, 1879. Minutes of the organization reflect that a Mrs. Amelia H. Colby was asked to name the association,
and so she selected the name CASSADAGA. The State charter says the association was foundedfor “literary and scientific purposes and mutual improvement in religious knowledge.”
Located beside New York’s Lake CASSADAGA, southwest of Buffalo, in Chautauqua County, the camp was six miles east of LAONA, home to a forerunner organization that led to the CASSADAGA movement. History records a ‘Trace Medium’ was a resident of LAONA, NY as early as 1853.
Holland, NY is northwest of CASSADAGA and the birthplace, in 1829, of Amelia Hunt. At Age 20 at Holland, Amelia married Hylon COLBY. Two years later the couple moved west, and by 1870, Amelia H. Colby was living in Indiana, a mother of three teenagers and already promoting herself as a Spiritualist Lecturer.
The Omaha Daily Bee reported on March 2, 1875 that Amelia’s appearance at Meyer’s Hall was so crowded she agreed to deliver four additional lectures. Mrs. Amelia Colby was also a guest speaker at the 1880 Freethinkers of the United States convention. Held at Hornellsville, NY, the 1880 gathering was covered by “Banner of Light,” a prominent Spiritualism publication of which Luther Colby of Massachusetts had served as Editor since the paper’s founding in 1857.
Interest in Spiritualism was spreading throughout the north in the 1880s, and new meeting camps were popping up in nearly every state. Amelia continued traveling the countryside lecturing, but she also remarried in 1887. Her second husband was James H. Luther of Crown Point, Indiana. Now Mrs. Amelia H. Colby Luther, she and her husband became members, in 1888, of the Indiana Association of Spiritualists, and both were instrumental in the founding of Camp Chesterfield.
Meanwhile, the essay by that Pennsylvania lawyer, “What I saw at CASSADAGA, 1888,” was published in 1889 by Colby & Rich Book Publishers of Boston, MA. The Colby of this publishing company was the same Luther Colby that was Editor of the Banner of Light newspaper.
And so by 1890, CASSADAGA of New York had come into its own as a Spiritualist camp, due in large part by both Mrs. Amelia Colby Luther of Indiana and Luther Colby of Massachusetts. Another traveling Spiritualist however had visited Florida prior by 1890. Palatka Daily News of January 4, 1888 reported: “George P. Colby to Lecture on Spiritualism at Fry’s Opera House.”
George P. Colby was also invited to address the New York CASSADAGA assembly of 1894, speaking there two years after Susan B. Anthony and Clara B. Colby, two prominent woman suffragists of that time, had addressed the 1892 gathering.
Four Colby’s had been involved with CASSADAGA of New York by 1894, the same year George P. Colby sliced off a corner of his 150 Volusia County acres for a ‘Spiritualist Meeting-Camp.’
Touring central Florida in 1895, Amos Root, author of ‘Gleanings in Bee Culture’, told of attending a ‘Lake Helen camp-meeting’ at Volusia County. Root expressed skepticism after visiting the camp, remarks in sharp contrast to the Pennsylvania Attorney, Anson R. RICHMOND who had argued in his “What I saw at CASSADAGA Lake, 1888” essay trying to disprove allegations the New York camp was a fraud.
ROOT and RICHMOND of course epitomize the widely conflicting views by the public, both then and now, on what occurs at Spiritualist camps. Leaving from DeLand, FL in 1895, then the closest railroad station to the Volusia County Spiritualist camp, Amos ROOT described his experience; writing that he had employed “a livery man to take me the five or six miles. The driver and I naturally discussed this camp-meeting, as he had attended one or two. Once a week they held a “séance,” if that is the right name for it, where the spirits not only wrote on slates, played on instruments, operated telegraphic machines, etc., but the faces of the dead appeared to the audience, and the departed ones conversed with their friends, shook hands, etc. The admission fee was $1.00.”
“The speaker’s stand was spanned by a beautiful arch on which was the text, ‘Peace on earth, good will toward men.’ The hymns that were sung were such as we generally use in our places of worship. The music was most beautiful. A bright young daughter of my friend played the violin, and another bee-keeper’s daughter played the guitar.”
Root was not himself convinced by the visit, yet told of one woman who said; “she saw the face of her mother, who died years ago, as plainly as she saw my face, and talked with her.” Amos said he could not “understand how the things were done, and that he never “weighed individuals and studied faces as he did then.”
CASSADAGA of Volusia County today sits along the western shore of Lake Colby, a short distance from Giddings Lake, named for Theodore D. Giddings, an 1880s homesteader who came south from Wisconsin with George P. Colby. Both mediums, both had relocated to CitrusLAND, America’s 19 century Paradise.
Luther Colby died October 7, 1894 at Boston. Mrs. Amelia H. Colby Luther died December 26, 1897, or so the administrator of her estate swore to upon oath. Despite a grave marker verifying court records, Eli Wilmot Sprague described a July 29, 1904 camp meeting at Chesterfield, Indiana: “Mrs. Amelia Colby-Luther occupied the platform in the morning giving one of her masterly discourses.” Two days later, the following was stated; “Sister Luther, I am happy to clasp hands with you from across the borderland.”
As for CASSADAGA of Volusia County, George P. Colby remained active until his death in 1933.
CASSADAGA of Volusia County, Florida
Photo Source: Florida Memory Project
References furnished upon request to [email protected]
A Goodreads #MysteryWeek Special Edition of Rick’s Blog
A Ghost Town needn’t be a place of paranormal activity. It can also be a mysterious once-upon-a-time town long since vanished. Central Florida of the 19 century had many such locations, a vague recollection identifying a once planned town that failed to survive. Instead, today a place name merely hints at that one-time location. Lakeville Road in West Orange County is one prime example, for other than the street’s name, there is no indication today that the once planned town of Lakeville existed.
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