Why We Live Here

By Hall Elliot


This summer we traveled with friends who live in Europe but who still talk about the wonderful days when they lived in greater Jamestown. They liked the area so much that they kept a home in Lakewood for several years thinking that they might come back to live here.

Recently, we went to a big wedding where two local young people were married. I must have talked to four or five couples who had come “back home” for the wedding. They hadn’t been here in 30 years but still remember this community as one of the finest places that they ever lived.

On a more sad note, recently I attended a memorial service for a friend who died. The service was really a celebration of her life. She loved and was loved by this community. She was always volunteering and was a life-long fan of Chautauqua and its summer program. Despite her advanced age, a crowd of more than 200 people (of all ages) came to the service to pay their respects. You can live a lifetime here and keep many close and wonderful friends.

Is it something in the water? Is it because we are semi-isolated in this backwater we call Chautauqua County and need each other? Is it because we are small enough so that people can still know and appreciate each other? Whatever it is, people make lifelong friendships in this community. It is a special place.

That is why I am optimistic about our future. It isn’t because we have cost-efficient government. It isn’t because we are on the cutting edge of all new technologies. It isn’t because we have three months of summer and nine months of good snowmobiling weather.

In part, I am optimistic because we have learned to be honest with each other. We are willing to talk about our differences without acrimony. We are willing to push beyond the normal surface of good will and ask each other prompting questions about our body politic.

We have organized our common life in multiple layers of government: county, cities, towns, villages, school districts, fire districts, water districts, sewer districts, special lighting districts, etc. In addition, we remain trapped in this forgotten, southwestern corner of New York State wishing (at least some of the time) that we were residents of Pennsylvania or Ohio. We continue to experience population decline relative to the rest of the country. But through it all, we see the silver lining … we like living here. What we want to build is a place our kids can come back to – a community like we have known which can even get better. And, part of getting better is making realistic assessments of where we are.

A Chautauqua County resident interested in analyzing public policy from a long-term perspective writes these views under the name Hall Elliot.