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Topic 39 of 42: Chautauqua

Mon, Sep 3, 2001 (07:52) | Culcha (terry)
Chautauqua has a special meaning to me. To many it may call up an image of a lecture circuit
that was popular around the turn of the century whose goal was to establish a cultural dialog
and education and to form communities for the advancement of these goals.

To me it was the place where I spent my summers when I grew up. I was very lucky to grow up
spending my summers in Chautauqua, which is one of the most unique and special cultural
phenomenons of our time.

Here, we can talk about the Chautauqua movement in general and I'll chime in with my
experiences in Chautauqua, Illinois.

12 responses total.

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 1 of 12: Culcha (terry) * Mon, Sep  3, 2001 (07:54) * 11 lines 
From the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Chautauquas started after the Civil War as an assembly for the training of
Sunday school teachers (at Chautauqua Lake, New York). The program was soon
broadened to include general education and popular entertainment; in later
years a home reading and corresponsdence study program was added; by 1900
there was a school of theology, a correspondence school, and a publishing
house. Many "chautauquas" patterned after the original were founded; by 1900
there were up to 400 of them. The system peaked in 1924 . . .

Well, that's a start.

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 2 of 12: Chautauqua  (terry) * Mon, Sep  3, 2001 (08:40) * 94 lines 
This is the best piece I've ever read on the net about Chautauqua, I just
found it on a google search:

I found this clipping today on the web.

The one nearest St. Louis, however-Piasa Chautauqua- has neither
nor moved from its birthplace on what is now know as the Great River Road
the Mississippi between Alton and Grafton, IL, although it is no longer a
center of public events. Still a picturesque, isolate retreat, crisscrossed
by winding roads, it is a gated, private colony of more than 100 cottages
more substantial homes, many occupied by descendants of earlier owners.
Founded in 1885 by Methodist leaders, as was the first Chautauqua in New
York, Piasa Chautauqua for decades, even into the 1850s attracted thousands
of St. Louisans and residents of Illinois. Arriving first by packet boat,
later by automobile or the trains that ran by as often as six times a day,
they were entertained, educated and inspired by such luminaries as William
Jennings Bryan, evangelists Sam Jones, Billy Sunday and Gypsy Smith, the
Swiss Bell Ringers, Sousas band and "Sunny Jim," reputed to be one of the
Theodore Roosevelts Rough Riders.

This is how an exuberant copywriter in the 1912 brochure described it:

Piasa Chautauqua is located less than 40 miles from St. Louis in a
valley between high, massive bluffs with the great Mississippi serving as a
guard in front and almost unexplored forest at back, one of natures most
picturesque spots, unknown to thousands but dear to those who have enjoyed
its beauties and regained health from its wonderful springs and its clear,
pure air, delightful cool nights, beautiful scenery and outdoor amusements,
boating, swimming, fishing, bathing, lawn tennis, croquet, baseball etc.

Many older St. Louisans and Illinois residents still remember those
and pure air and the outdoor amusements. Their children and grandchildren
remember the fun they had there at mid-century.

A 1954 clipping, save by Sylvia Twigger who was a director of childrens
activities, reported a "clever and successful Childrens Day pageant
"Around the World." Frank Weyforth of Clayton portrayed Uncle Sam; Mary
Kurt, Mrs. Twiggers sister, (now Mrs. Wesley Kempfer) was an assistant as
were Barbara Jacoby, Barbara Rogers and Pat Schermann. Mary Meisel
Miss United Nations.

Another clipping stated, "if there were still a pied piper roaming our
modern day world, most likely he would lead throngs of children down the
Piasa bluffs into the little resort which rests in the valley off Alton
Lake. The resort, Chautauqua, has often been proclaimed as "a childrens
paradise." ...To make it safe, automobile drivers must observe a 10-mile
speed limit and dogs can roam the grounds only when leashed or muzzled."
Referring to a play school for children up to age 12, the clipping reported
that the schools director, Mrs. Twigger, "became very popular with the
resorts children when she served as lifeguard at the pool in the 1952
season...Mrs. Twigger, of St.Louis, resides with her family at the Glad-U-
Could-Make-It cottage."

Her mother, the late Mrs. Arthur Kurt, for some time managed the hotel on
the property.

When Piasa Chautauqua celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1960, Post-
writer Clarissa Start Wrote:
"It is impossible to mention all names of all the families who have had a
part in Chautauqua. A dozen or more have owned cottages there more than 50

Opera singer Anna Mary Dickey used to summer at Chautauqua, Start wrote, as
did musician Gus Haenschen and Clark Clifford, Washington D.C. lawyer.
The Chautauqua old-timers, she continued, "recall the days when street
lights were tallow lamps, when the refrigeration system consisted of each
family having a wooden box in the spring, fastened to the bank by ropes, so
that when it rained, men ran frantically to save their boxes from being
swept away. The Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis railroad and the improvised
"dinky" on the Bluff line from Lockhaven, now in the Museum of Transport.
The river boats, the City of Providence, Eagle, J.S. and Corwin Spencer
which made regular excursions there."

I participated in many of these Children's Day pageants and parades. I
remember the Jacoby's, Barbara Rogers and Pat Schermann. And who could
forget Mary Meisel? She was quite the beauty.

The "exuberant copyrighter" wasn't exagerating, it truly was as magnificent
as that description. Truly a child's dream come true.

I have been asked what inspired the Spring, and I would have to say it was
Chautauqua, Illinois.

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 3 of 12: Chautauqua, Illinois  (terry) * Thu, Nov 22, 2001 (04:44) * 40 lines 
Heartland Chautauqua 2000-East Tour left to right:
James Longstreet, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Van Lew, Harriet Tubman, and Mathew Brady

The ghost of Chautauqua, that lively 19th century icon of religion, culture, education and entertainment, is returning this summer to its old haunts in Missouri and Illinois. Appropriately, the characters to appear on its stage are also distinguished ghosts from another era.

Costumed scholar-actors representing 10 men and women who influenced popular thought and changed the course of America in Civil War times are appearing throughout Missouri and Illinois in the fifth Heartland Chautauqua sponsored by the Missouri and Illinois Humanities Councils.

It’s a giant step back in time, a modernized version of a century-old idea, brought up-to-date for a technological age. In 1874, the first Chautauqua was established in upstate New York by Methodist ministers and laymen as a religious training school, later evolving into a center of culture and entertainment. Soon other Chautauquas were springing up throughout the country. Residents and visitors welcomed the most distinguished orators, debaters and preachers and the most popular entertainers into even rural communities, including St. Louis’ nearby mecca, a woodland site on the Illinois bluffs near Alton by the Mississippi and what is now known as the Great River Road.

In their heyday, these festivals played to an estimated 40 million Americans in some 10,000 cities. But after World War I, Chautauqua began to lose its original focus and by the 1930s, the traveling tent shows ended.

Now, thanks to Humanities Councils across the country, the concept has been revived, with programs reminiscent of those of a century ago, although centered around a single theme rather than offering a wide variety of attractions.

The Great Plains Chautauquas began the revival in the 1980s and others have followed. In 1993, the Missouri Humanities Council launched Missouri Chautauqua with historic characters representing various religious traditions significant to the history of the state and of the nation, and established it as a permanent program. In 1995, the Illinois Humanities Council joined Missouri in creating Heartland Chautauqua as "a serious intellectual enterprise."

This season’s theme is "Inside the Civil War." To tell the stories of that historic conflict, the performers—like the traveling troupes of a century ago—will visit eight communities in the two-state area.

One troupe of five will appear June 26-July 1 in Haskell Park in Alton, just a few miles from 115-year-old Piasa Chautauqua Assembly, now a gated residential community in the Illinois woodland on the Great River Road.

The revived Chautauqua is hosted by the Alton Marketplace Association. Evening performances begin with local musical entertainment at 7 and continue with the Heartland Chautauqua performance from 7:45 to 9 p.m. All is free and open to the public. Dinner will also be available from 6 to 6:45 p.m. for a fee of $6.

Civil War personalities to be represented in the Alton programs and their portrayers are Confederate Gen. James Longstreet (Danney Goble); Mathew Brady, Civil War photographer (Dave Dickerson); Harriet Tubman, acclaimed for her daring and heroic rescue of more than 300 slaves and preeminent conductor of the Under-ground Railroad (Shene King); Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and an army nurse during the war (Gayle Stahlhuth); Elizabeth Van Lew, one of the most effective undercover operators for the Union (Annette Baldwin Kolasinski).

Since the Missouri Humanities Council began the project eight years ago, many Missouri communities and sites—including Tower Grove Park in St. Louis—have welcomed the new Chautauquas, and a number of Illinois sites have been selected since their state joined Missouri five years ago, A few have been repeaters.

Sites are chosen by the Humanities Councils on the basis of applications to host the event, the enthusiasm of community boards and agencies, the number of volunteers and the facilities communities can offer to handle large crowds of visitors. Unfortunately, while the original Chautauquas would seem to be appropriate locales and would help keep alive the legend and lore of the 19th century project, hundreds have disappeared, swallowed up by suburbia or deserted by new generations. Even those which have survived in the new technological age are not likely to have the personnel or the space such an enterprise requires.

Still, the planners have kept one tradition alive. Residents of Alton and of the seven other program locales will raise a circus tent, just as did volunteers nearly a century ago. Under the tent, with a different star appearing each evening, the troupe will lead audiences in an exploration of what life was like inside the Civil War, and will provide a new look at that period in American history through the stories of 10 men and women who experienced the war from vastly different standpoints.

The actors also will provide free daytime programs to schools and to various community groups. In these presentations they will step out of their Civil War roles and tell of their own life experiences. All have distinguished careers not only in the theater but as authors, educators, artists and historians.

"We are providing living history," said Barbara Gill, deputy director of the Missouri Humanities Council. "And the wonderful thing about it is the way it brings communities and people together. Today, with radio and television and movies and the Internet, people don’t make so many opportunities to get together and work together. But we have found in our previous summer programs a renewed sense of fellowship and camaraderie that the old Chautauquas engendered but have faded somewhat through the years. "

In This Fabulous Century, Time-Life Books describes life in the 1910-1920 decade when Chautauquas were at their zenith.

"Of all the various cultural vehicles that rolled through America in the second decade, by far the most popular were the inspirational tent shows called Chautauquas. ..

"The people loved it and everyone from the White House on down had something to say for it. Ex-President Teddy Roosevelt called it ‘the most American thing in America.’ Others called it ‘the great forum of culture and inspiration.’ And to the home folks, the Chautauqua was not only an opportunity to pick up some packaged enlightenment; it was the social blast of the year."

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 4 of 12: Culcha  (terry) * Thu, Nov 22, 2001 (04:44) * 1 lines

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 5 of 12: Culcha (terry) * Tue, Mar  8, 2005 (09:27) * 1 lines 

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 6 of 12: yellowrose  (yellowrose) * Sat, Oct 13, 2007 (23:35) * 1 lines 
I also spent summers at mother was Carole Rogers, Barbara Rogers's sister and best friends with Mary Meisel...these pictures are great, but wish I could find some from the 60's and 70's....

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 7 of 12: Conf admin (cfadm) * Sat, Dec  1, 2007 (19:25) * 8 lines 
Wow, that's great. I remember Carole Rogers, she was really active and vibrant.

And how could I forget Mary Meisel? These were two standout members of the Chautauqua community.

If you did those pictures up, I'd love to post them to the site.

How did you find the Spring, yellowrose?

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 8 of 12: Mack  (Mack) * Sun, Nov 30, 2008 (00:19) * 5 lines 
How could anyone forget Mary Meisel? Cousins Amanda & Jack Rodgers had the cottage The Lodge which was just below the Meisel's cottage. My mother, sister and I helped run Kentucy Home with Uncle Aaron and Aunt Katherine Burnett a couple of seasons and then ran the Springs Hotel for a season in the early 1960s.

My mother, Beatrice (Didkman) Swarm, now 90, lives with us, grew up there in the 1920s & 1930s. She gave swimming lessons, ran the children's playground, gave riding lessons at the stables by the gate and gave dancing lessons at the pavillion.

So many happy memories there. Mother and I were there for a week in 2004 at the time of the rededication of the sundial at the flag pole in front of the Auditorium, which is a memorial to her first cousin Billy Clarkson who was a U.S. Marine killed in WW II.

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 9 of 12: David Clarkson McJonathan-Swarm  (Mack) * Sun, Nov 30, 2008 (00:22) * 14 lines 
I'll go ahead and post the following which I composed as an email that bounced:

I'm so happy to have found your posts on Chautauqua.

My great-grandmother first had a lot there at the turn of the last century.

My grandmother (Sarah Badley Dickman) and her sister (Louise MacArthur Clarkson) both had cottages there. Lousar Lodge was at the back corner of the Auditorium toward the river and Erstwhile which was by the creek near the gate.

My grandparents were married there by the river in 1916. (Sarah Badley MacArthur and the Reverend Wm. Hy. Dickman)

My mother (Beatrice (Dickman) Swarm grew up there between 1918 and 1940 - she gave swimming lessons, ran the children's playground and gave riding lessons at the stables by the gate in the 1930s. She with her two children helped run Kentucky Home a season or two with Uncle Aaron and Aunt Katherine Burnett and ran the Springs Hotel one season in the early 1960s.

The sundial at the flag pole in front of the Auditorium is a memorial to Mother's first cousin Billy (Wm. H.,Jr.)Clarkson who was a U.S. Marine killed in WW II.

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 10 of 12: Conf admin (cfadm) * Thu, Mar  5, 2009 (19:37) * 1 lines 
I know the sundial and Kentucky Home well. And who could forget Mary Meisel, absolutely first rate human being. Thanks for all those wonderful facts.

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 11 of 12: McBrien family  (McBrien) * Fri, Oct 14, 2011 (09:21) * 3 lines 
My dad (Dr. Fred McBrien) always told about spending the summers at Chautauqua along with his brothers Bill, John and Jim. Their dad was Dr. William McBrien M.D. They lived in Staunton, IL just about 20 miles away. I understand their cottage was named "Done Workin". I wonder if it still exists and whether anyone recalls my dad and his family.

My name is Cynthia McBrien Rothrock. I live in Arcola, IL. I would to learn more about my family. My e-mail address is

 Topic 39 of 42 [cultures]: Chautauqua
 Response 12 of 12: Conf admin (cfadm) * Sun, Nov 20, 2011 (12:41) * 1 lines 
I'll see what I can find out.

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