August the Time for Chautauqua
Quad River News Aug. 20, 1984
By Bill Gladstone
For about the first quarter of
this century August was Chautauqua time in Grant City. The accompanying
photograph was taken in August, 1914. It shows the huge chautauqua
tent setting on 'Munn's Corner' (now the site of the Farmers Bank).
The speaker that day was William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, known
as the Silver Orator of the Platte, had three times previously
(1896, 1900, 1908) been the nominee for president of the United
States, first as a Democratic Populist, then as a Democrat. Bryan
is also remembered as the lawyer who presented the prosecution's
case in the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee.
It is interesting to note some of the modes of transportation
of that day. In the foreground are both teams and single hitches
pulling buggies. There are a couple of horses with saddles. The
cars pictured are most interesting with the one shown on the right
being of special interest. Just behind it is a bicycle. No doubt
many of the people in attendance had walked, and I'm sure that
many had arrived in Grant City on the passenger train.
The chautauqua was an educational presentation wrapped in entertainment.
The chautauqua circuit was an outgrowth of the Chautauqua Lake
Sunday School Assembly which met for its first season in the state
of New York in August, 1874. It was a two week session for training
Sunday School teachers and combined recreation and entertainment
with educational training.
By the turn of the century the chautauqua circuit had evolved.
A typical chautauqua organization was the Redpath Chautauqua Circuit
which operated in the midwest and brought its show to Grant City.
It operated 12 units. Each unit stayed about a week at each site
on its circuit and the performers would move from one site to
the next, sometimes staying only one day at a place, sometimes
for only two or three days and sometimes staying the whole session.
It seemed that they operated only during the summer months.
The first chautauqua to appear in Grant City was in 1903. It set
up in Houser-Verbeck Park in the west edge of Grant City. William
Jennings Bryan was scheduled to speak during the Saturday afternoon
session. An August, 1903, issue of the Worth County Times tells
that 8,000 persons were in Houser-Verbeck Park to see or hear
Bryan, but he did not arrive that day because of the death of
a friend. The article says Bryan did arrive the next day, but
some four or five hours late because persons crowded into the
tent to hear his lecture that day.
The chautauqua returned to Houser-Verbeck Park in 1904 but this
time the attendance was not good enough to make it a paying proposition
and Houser & Verbeck did not sponsor the event again. There
is no record of a chautauqua being in Grant City in 1905, 1906
nor 1907 but in 1908 Grant City became one of the stops on the
Redpath Circuit and continued to be until the mid to late 1920's.
I was born just a few years too late to have had the privilege
of attending a chautauqua. I did, though prevail upon Kathryn
Mathews to write of her rememberances of the chautauqua day.
THE CHAUTAUQUA IN WORTH COUNTY
By Kathyrn Prugh Mathews
One of the highlights of entertainment in Worth County
in my childhood was the chautauqua which rolled into Grant City
with its huge canvas tents. It was always in August and they always
set up their tents on the northwest corner of the square where
the new Farmers Bank is being built.
By August the farmer's work was not quite so busy, so they could
spend one or more days attending the performances. The townspeople
attended in full force every afternoon and evening session.
Season tickets were sold as well as single performance tickets.
It was a cultural event as well as being educational and entertaining.
The programs consisted of melodramas, instrumental music, vocal
music, political speeches, religious speeches, as well as speeches
by famous people of the day. There were style shows and magicians,
and one or more snappy bands performed.
One of this county's most talented musicians, Fern Sanders, played
for many years on the chautauqua circuit. I think her circuits
were more in the eastern part of the United States.
One of the famous chautauquas was the Redpath. The Redpath Circuit
was here in the midwest. A new troupe of entertainers would appear
every day or two and then move on to the next town on the circuit.
The entertainers were from Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis and
other metropolitan areas.
During the week of the chautauqua, the children of the area who
wanted to participate, practiced every morning for a program they
would present for the chautauqua crowd later in the week. The
director trained them for plays, musicals, etc. After this entertainment
the children were always treated to a picnic. Not only was this
a valuable educational experience for the youngsters but it also
helped insure that there would be a good attendance at the performance.
The costumes and clothes the chautuaqua entertainers wore were
the latest fashions of the city. The local seamstresses and ladies
that were deft with a needle took notes on what the latest styles
Most of the people who attended the performances sat on planks,
but there were some reserved seats which were folding chairs,
and they were down near the stage.
To a little girl, chautauqua week was a week of dreams and fantasies
and one of the most important weeks of the year.