October 1901 marked a milestone in Isabella’s life.
For decades she and her husband Ross and other members of their family had been deeply involved with Chautauqua Institution. Isabella strongly believed in its core principles, and she immersed herself in furthering Chautauqua’s mission.
Every summer for decades she taught classes at Chautauqua, and encouraged friends and acquaintances to attend the summer session. She helped extend Chautauqua’s outreach by quietly encouraging people she met in all walks of life to embrace the CLSC and its educational offerings.
And more than any other ambassador, she inspired an entire generation of readers to experience the place for themselves after reading about it in Isabella’s many novels about Chautauqua.
During the course of their marriage Isabella and Ross lived in many places; his occupation as a minister often required them to move from one church to another. But almost without fail their summers took them back to Chautauqua. For Isabella, who was born and raised in New York, her annual trips to Chautauqua must have felt very much like a homecoming.
Over the years Isabella and Ross rented different cottages on Chautauqua’s grounds. Many of them have since been demolished and replaced by newer buildings.
One of the last cottages they occupied was at 20 Forest Avenue, bounded to the north by the shore of Lake Chautauqua and to the east by normal Hall.
The house was built in 1890 and still stands today dressed in sunny yellow with white trim.
Isabella and her family spent a few summers in that cottage, including the summer of 1901. And when the Chautauqua season ended in early September they, like all the other summer residents, made their way to the railroad depot and returned to their “regular” home.
Few people know, however, that just a few weeks later Isabella and Ross quietly returned to Chautauqua to pack up their belongings and leave Chautauqua for the last time.
How different Chautauqua must have seemed to them in October; and how quiet it must have been, with its closed cottages, empty meeting halls, and deserted dining rooms!
Frances Hawley knew what Chautauqua was like off season. She was a year-round Chautauqua resident and Isabella’s friend. She was on hand when Isabella and Ross, along with their little daughter Francis, arrived at Chautauqua to pack up their possessions.
The Aldens intended to stay with Frances only a day or two, but their stay soon lengthened into a week, for there was much to do. Frances wrote:
They were very busy packing books and sorting papers and manuscripts. [Ross] would come in at night utterly weary, but with a big basketful to be looked over during the evening. They were obliged to stop and eat, and were tired enough at meal time to be glad of a little rest; and so three times a day our food was spiced with anecdotes and stories, wise and pithy sayings, and with the jokes that had been perpetrated upon old Chautauquans by the inimitable Frank Beard.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be in that room and hear those stories about Frank Beard and his practical jokes?
Frances said this about her friend Isabella:
The bright and sparkling style that has made Mrs. Alden’s books so attractive is hers outside of book covers, and her sweet and winning ways won all the hearts of the household.
Frances also described the moment when she realized the Alden’s visit was quickly coming to an end:
When at the close of their visit we parted with them and realize that it might be long before we could again have her kindly sympathy or feel the warm pressure of his hand and see the merry twinkle of his eye, the delight that the pleasure of this visit had given us was tinged with sadness and we were loath to let them go.
It’s sad to think that when Isabella and her family left Chautauqua that October day, they did so knowing they might never again see the place they had loved so much for so many years.
Their departure marked the end of an era for Chautauqua Institution. But Isabella and Ross were ready to move on to the next chapter of their life together.