Freethinkers Meeting Banquet Site

Early newspaper ad promotes the Glen Park Hotel. Click on image for a larger view in a new window.

On Friday, August 25, some 120 freethinkers attending the 1882 convention of the New York State Freethinkers Association at Watkins (now Watkins Glen) walked about eight blocks from the convention site to the palatial Glen Park Hotel. The Hotel was situated across the street from the entrance to Watkins Glen, the village’s principal tourist attraction. There they took part in a gala banquet honoring D. M. Bennett, publisher of the freethought newspaper The Truth Seeker. Bennett had been arrested for selling a marriage-reform tract the last time the freethinkers had convened in Watkins, in 1878. Since then he had faced a high-profile obscenity trial, served 13 months in prison, and most recently returned in triumph from a world tour paid for by his supporters.

Attendees included suffrage activist Matilda Joslyn Gage; Rochester abolitionist and suffragist Amy Post; Rochester freethinker Elias H. Gault; freethought advocate Samuel Porter Putnam; suffragist Juliet Severance; and W. S. Bell, one of Bennett’s co-arrestees at the 1878 convention.

According to the account in The Truth Seeker, the banquet continued until 1:30 in the morning, featuring an endless series of toasts. As the banquet was a temperance event, the account noted, "no wine was used." An ironic note given that today, farm wineries and wine tasting attract at least as many tourists to the region around Watkins Glen as does the Glen itself.

The hotel was razed at an unknown date, presumably early in the twentieth century. It was replaced by three substantial brick homes, two of which continue to serve Watkins Glen visitors.