What is a Chautauqua and why did Clear Lake host one?

What is a Chautauqua and why did Clear Lake host one?

This is the first in a series of three articles preceding The Clear Lake Chautauqua Revisited to be held at City Park on Saturday, August 17, 2019 from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm and hosted by the Clear Lake Historical Society and Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

This week’s focus: What is a Chautauqua and how did it come to Clear Lake?

By Beth Ann Schumacher – president of the Clear Lake Historical Society

Started in New York on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in 1874 by Methodists Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent, the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly was initially a summer vacation learning experiment.  Many protestant denominations joined in the project and the assembly’s success as a series of lessons for Sunday school teachers transformed into a life-long learning program that would start by offering academic subjects including art, music and physical education.  Methodist ministers from across the nation traveled to what was often referred to as the “Mother Chautauqua” in New York, to learn how to bring the energy and concept of the camp meeting/Chautauqua back “west”.

Rev. John Hogarth Lozier

The Rev. John Hogarth Lozier was one such Methodist minister who was very familiar with the Chautauqua movement.  In 1871, he was the presiding elder of the Northwest Methodist Episcopal Conference and was charged with finding a permanent location for the conference’s meeting grounds.  Even though Rev. Lozier initially thought that the Iowa Great Lakes region in Dickenson County would be an ideally suited location, Lozier discovered that Clear Lake Methodists were already hosting small but quite successful camp meetings near Clear Lake as early as 1873.  After a few more years of discussion and review of the successes of the Chautauqua movement in New York, the Northwest Methodist Episcopal Conference drew up articles of association as the State Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Drawing of the Clear Lake Chautauqua Park in 1881. The Siloam Pool is near the location of the current Surf Ballroom and Museum. The Prospect Hotel is near the site of the current Hilltop Motel and Second Street is the current North Shore Drive and West Street is Buddy Holly Place. (This map is courtesy of Paul C. Juhl – Clear Lake: The Earliest Images)

In 1875, Rev. Lozier selected a lovely area of small hills with sandy soil and dense woods for shade on the north side of Clear Lake, not too far from the growing community.  The land was purchased and laid out as Clear Lake Park or “The Camp Meeting Grounds” as many in our community fondly call the area still today.  From 1875 until 1914 the Clear Lake Chautauqua thrived, was attended by thousands and was host to noted entertainers, nationally known speakers, political figures and met its goal of providing religious education, academic learning, music, art and physical education.  Thousands of people flocked to Clear Lake during those years, staying in houses, cottages and even tents in Clear Lake Park to participate in a community of life-long learning during the summer vacation time.

Join us next week as we learn more about the park, the programs and the people that made our Clear Lake Chautauqua a summer destination for so many.

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