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We are grateful for the research of Robinson & Associates in preparation of the Updated and Expanded Washington Grove Historic District nomination. Excerpts from their work, which follow, focus on the Chautauqua Movement and its manifestation in Washington Grove.

The Chautauqua Movement developed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to provide programming and courses for cultural uplift and recreation. Those who established Chautauquas across the country largely based their program on their namesake, the original Chautauqua Institution in western New York. The Chautauqua Institution was founded by Methodist bishop John Heyl Vincent and business leader and philanthropist Lewis Miller as a summer school for Sunday school teachers. It was located at a Methodist camp meeting facility on New York’s Chautauqua Lake. Vincent and Miller’s institution added an education component to the Methodist camp meeting program, and, because of these origins, Chautauquas had a long-running connection to American Methodism and camp meetings.

In 1878, Vincent began the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC), a four-year, mail-order reading program that provided a full curriculum, complete with textbooks and exams. Participants were required to read four to six substantial books per year in literature, history, sociology, and science. Students had the choice of either reading on their own or joining a local reading circle. By 1900, around 50,000 people had completed the program. At the end of the program, CLSC participants were awarded a diploma and encouraged to attend a ceremony known as “Recognition Day” at the New York Chautauqua, at an independent assembly, or at a village reading circle.

In 1901, Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association trustees, some of whom were behind the Chautauqua in Glen Echo, established an exploratory to study the feasibility of a Washington Grove Chautauqua. The committee, according to Washington Grove historian Philip Edwards, not only investigated its viability, but planned a complete season of Chautauqua programs, with camp and temperance meetings worked into the schedule. Chautauqua programming officially began at Washington Grove on July 4, 1902, to an enthusiastic reception. Approximately one hundred events were planned for the first season, which ran through the month of September. Additionally, outdoor games and recreation were encouraged. The Chautauqua concept was not entirely new to Washington Grove. Recitation, music, and reading had been a regular fixture of the association’s hotel, and camp meeting speakers had engaged with social and political topics. Musical performances had also been common there since at least 1889. Before Chautauqua, the Grove was relatively quiet for much of the year, until the camp meeting attracted guests by the thousands. The arrival of Chautauqua brought new energy to the Grove and meant that its streets were busy throughout the entire summer.

Like its counterparts across the country, Washington Grove’s Chautauqua offered a diverse array of programming and classes, including scientific lectures, political speeches, Stereopticon picture shows, minstrel shows, self-improvement instruction, and recitations from Shakespeare. The roster of performers and speakers included musicians, professors, and religious leaders. A 1906 program of the Washington Grove Chautauqua listed classes in physical culture, art, music, kindergarten, and self-expression. At the end of the season, “Recognition Day” ceremonies were held for CLSC program graduates in the auditorium.

Next Month: Chautauqua attendance in Washington Grove outgrows the capacity of the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall, and an Auditorium is built…

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