The following year ground was cleared and tents put up to house the several hundred people who came for six days of religious talks and sermons delivered from the “preaching stand,” which was the first building erected on the grounds. It is now a part of the Bay View Historical Museum. By 1877, streets, parks, and public areas had been platted and twenty simple cottages had been built. Ten years later there were 125 cottages, a hotel and a chapel. The religious program expanded and grew into a Summer Assembly of eight weeks. Chautauqua-type literary and scientific circles were formed. The Bay View Reading Circle (1893-1921) had study groups extending across the country and included 25,000 members.
Bay View quickly became a part of the Chautauqua Movement, a uniquely American institution committed to bringing the four programs of Religion, Recreation, Education and the Performing Arts to a broad spectrum of the public.
Although Methodist in origin and still associated with the United Methodist Church, Bay View has always been ecumenical in spirit. Summer Assembly programs have included prominent leaders in all denominations and such universally-known personalities as Lorado Taft, the Chicago sculptor; Madam Ernestine Schumann-Heinck, the world-famous contralto; Maude Ballington Booth, the “Little Mother” of the prisons; Helen Keller, the deaf and blind lady who overcame her handicaps with great courage; Frances Willard, the temperance leader; Kate Douglas Wiggin the author of “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”; William Jennings Bryan, the great political orator of his time; Dr. Booker T. Washington, the black educator; Dr. S. Parkes Cadman, the peerless Brooklyn preacher; Dr. Ralph W. Sockman of the National Radio Pulpit; and Dr. George Arthur Buttrick, theologian, author, preacher, and editor of the widely-used Interpreters Bible and Dictionary. Outstanding pulpit voices and stars of the Opera and Concert Hall have been heard in Bay View through the years.
The Summer Assembly Program, at the present time, carries on the tradition of the years. Artists and students of the Music Festival, activities of the Theatre Arts Department, Sunday Services of Worship and the popular Sunday Vesper Concerts bring thousands to the John M. Hall Auditorium each season.
Education has always been important in Bay View. A so-called “university” was begun in 1886 with many departments. The School of Music was the forerunner of the Conservatory which brings students from many parts of the country. Albion College conducted a summer school on the grounds from 1917 to 1969. A recently-introduced series of seminars offering training in a variety of skills varying from knitting and needlepoint to Spanish and bridge, together with the daily “Religion and Life Hour Forum” carry on the long tradition of adult education.
Recreation and sports have not been forgotten at Bay View. Tennis, swimming and sailing are enjoyed by all ages. An active program of clubs, games, athletics, crafts, camping, hiking and music for children of all ages is carried on under full-time leadership. A social program for Junior and Senior High young people under trained leadership, is centered in the “Rec Club” building on the beach. The Campus Club, a separate member organization, has its own building and provides indoor games and the outdoor sports of shuffleboard, croquet and bowling on the green. The Woman’s Council has been in existence for over 50 years and also has its own building, where weekly meetings are held with programs and social hours. The Garden Club has added and keeps adding much to the beauty of the public grounds of Bay View by planting and maintaining flower beds, ornamental boxes, and hanging baskets.
The Bay View Library was established early, and has been cited as the best summer colony library in the United States. The Bay View Historical Museum, organized in 1964, occupies the two oldest buildings on the grounds. Its purpose is to present a picture of early Bay View cottage life and activities, and to preserve the objects illustrating how Bay View pioneers lived. The Bay View Archives collects and makes available for study the record of the Association and other materials related to its history. There are now several families who have been a part of Bay View for six generations. Bay View residents have a great interest in the preservation and restoration of their cottages, most of which are famous for their Victorian “gingerbread” decorations. Evelyn Hall is known to be “one of the finest examples of American Victorian ‘Steamboat’ architecture.” The Centennial Celebration of 1975 created a further spirit of comradeship and pride in the Bay View heritage.
The residency period for cottagers is May through October. The business of the Association is cared for by a nine-member Board of Trustees, three of whom are elected annually and one of whom serves as President. The year-round staff includes the President, Executive Director, Business and Superintendent’s Office staff and Security. The community is comprised of more than 440 cottages, most of which were built during the first 25 years, and over 30 public buildings.
This summary omits the names of many devoted members of the Association who have loved Bay View, and through the years have given their support of both money and time to its program. Without this selflessness such a unique community of kindred spirits could never have been maintained against the prevalent commercialism of our modern age.
Bay View is still, as the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad in 1882 said in its Resorts of Northern Michigan, “Simply a collection of grand, good people of all creeds, who, because of common consent and under democratic government, flock here in the summer to renew their friendships and help each other to all other enjoyments possible.”