Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beyond the Spiritualist Camp at Cassadaga

My first two trips to the town of Cassadaga in western Volusia County were at night, so I had never seen the town during daylight. On my inaugural visit, my main objective was to find a restroom and I remember I ventured into the dark, deserted hotel to find relief and I was a little freaked out. The next trip years later was just a run through the cemetery, so I had no time to properly enjoy the town itself.

So on this gorgeous February day, my wife decided she would like a reading for her Valentine's Day gift, I had the luxury of walking around and exploring while she spent an hour with a Medium. What I found was a real old Florida town, composed almost entirely of old wood frame houses, dirt roads and some Spiritualist kitsch.

The Cassadaga website says the Spiritualist camp was created in 1894 by a Medium named George P. Colby. The word Cassadega means "rocks beneath the water" in the Seneca Indian language and the location of the town supposedly has "special etheric vibrations emanate from the earth itself, sometimes called Ley Lines or energy Hot Spots." According to another site, Colby was ill with TB when he arrived in the area and a "small spring located on his homestead provided the elixir that healed him." Recognizing the historic and environmental significance of the town, Volusia County has preserved 110 acres adjoining the town, and it is apparent that most of the strip malls and convenience stores present throughout the rest of Florida are not welcome here.

The entire camp is on the historic register and I was very surprised to find a little cottage that was home to the George Colby Museum for sale. It had cute heart shapes in the picket fence and was located diagonally from the hotel. The architecture of the town has a distinct New England feel, and it reminds me a little of the wooden houses of Key West, on a much smaller scale. (Read a great review of the town here.)

The largest buildings are the Cassadaga Hotel, the Information Center, and the Colby Memorial Temple, which is designed in the Mediterranean Revival style seen throughout so much of Florida. Behind the temple I discovered a beautiful lake with a small park that was peaceful and calming. As I walked the streets of the quaint little town, I wondered how I had missed this place's charm before. My guess is that I was so focused on the odd fact that the economy here is driven by Mediums performing readings, that I missed that the place was like a time capsule, untouched by modern sprawl and development.

As for the reading Mrs. Ephemera received, the Medium spend much of the time communicating with her ancestors. He discussed aspects of their personalities that she was unaware of, and she was eager to find out if his assessment was valid from her mother. He encouraged both her and I, (even though I was not part of the reading), to devote time to discovering our spiritual paths. For me on this day, exploring the streets of this timeless town was enough to raise my spirits.

Archival images from the State Archives of Florida


  1. Very interesting. I like that... a small town full of mediums.

  2. I love the town, but I kind of have issues with the mediums in the town. Getting a reading is fun, as long as they don't overdo it like it sounds like they did for your wife. I find it so immoral that they charge money to do a cold reading and pretend to talk to dead relatives. It kind of destroys the memories that someone actually had of their ancestors and replaces the memories with something made up by the psychic...

    But then again, their whole economy is based off of lying to gullible people, so nothings going to change. If anyone there did have any sort of supernatural powers that allowed them to speak to the "other side," you would think at least someone would attempt to pass James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge.

  3. Awesome! Whether you are a believer or not, these camps are amazingly historically significant. Cassadaga was the first I was familiar with and another such camp, Lillydale in NY, has a lake Cassadaga where I think the Florida camp got its name. I eventually will post a draft post on Camp Chesterfiled in Indiana when I find time to drive over there now that it's getting warmer. The camp in Wisconsin may be the only other such camp from the era still in existence. Great and very complete post as usual.