Visit Chautauqua in 1890

In the summer of 1890 Isabella Alden and her family were once again at her beloved Chautauqua Institution.

That year, attendance at Chautauqua was remarkable. The Evening Journal—a newspaper in nearby Jamestown, New York—reported on the size of the crowd in an article printed August 20, 1890:

Another Sunday at Chautauqua has come and gone, and yet the big crowd and its interest in everything continues.

A crowd gathered in an open area of Chautauqua, about 1915.

There was plenty to be interested in. Chautauqua’s daily schedule included Bible lectures, practical daily living classes, entertainment, nature hikes, and plenty of opportunities for exercise.

An added attraction: that weekend Mr. Leland Powers, known as the “Dramatic wonder of America” presented a three-act comedy based on a story by Frances Hodgson-Burnett, in which he played all the parts!

A publicity photo of Mr. Leland Powers


The newspaper explained one major reason for the crowd size that weekend: more people were making longer stays at Chautauqua:

The outgoing stream has been large during the past week, and yet not enough to keep pace with the one pouring in. The outlet does not equal the inlet, and so the crowd grows larger. It will probably reach its culmination on Recognition Day, which will be Wednesday of this week.

“Recognition Day” is Chautauqua’s version of graduation for members of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. In 1890, all the C.L.S.C. members who successfully completed their four-year study course gathered at Chautauqua. Together they made a stately procession through the symbolic Golden Gate that stood near the Hall of Philosophy, and then they received their Chautauqua diplomas.

The Golden Gate at Chautauqua Institution

The same newspaper article reported:

Enthusiastic C.L.S.C’ers are coming in daily by droves, by swarms, by multitudes. Meetings of the various classes are held almost every day, and excitement is fast reaching its height. It seems scarcely possible that in another week the Chautauqua season of 1890 will be closed and the exodus will be begun.

A Chautauqua Recognition Day class procession in 1895. Each class carried their own distinctive banner.

Also on that Sunday morning, Isabella’s husband, the Reverend G. R. Alden, led a memorial service in honor of prominent Chautauquans who died during the preceding year.

Reverend Gustavus Rossenberg Alden

What a very busy weekend at Chautauqua! That Sunday evening brought rain, which reduced the crowd size at the remaining events. After so much activity, the newspaper report describes for us a peaceful Sunday night:

A ramble about the grounds just after the sermon, even if it did rain, well repaid the discomfort. Every cottage, every tent, every room in every cottage and tent, gleaming with lights through the dismal mist, presented a scene unprecedented and well worth seeing. The chimes rung out another Sunday at Chautauqua.

You can read the full article that contains many more descriptions of that busy Chautauqua weekend in 1890. Just click here; you’ll find the article in columns four and five.

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

Chautauqua Bay 1908.
Chautauqua Bay 1908. You can see the tower of the Hotel Athenaeum peeking above the treetops.

The Chautauqua Institution was constantly evolving and improving. From its humble beginnings as a camp-meeting for the purpose of educating Methodist Sunday School teachers, it grew into an esteemed and respected institution of general education for anyone willing to take on the curriculum and abide by Chautauqua’s basic principles. Over the course of several decades, buildings were erected and dismantled; surrounding acres were acquired; and landscapes changed.

The Promenade, with Chautauqua cottages on the left and the lake visible through the trees on the right.

Isabella Alden wrote about Chautauqua’s transformations in Four Mother’s at Chautauqua. When Flossy, Eurie, Marian and Ruth stepped off the steamer onto Chautauqua’s dock in 1913, they gazed about in wide-eyed wonder.

“It isn’t the same place at all!” was Mrs. Roberts’s final exclamation. “Marian, don’t you remember the mud we waded through on that first night? We must have gone up that very hill, only, where is the road? Look at those paved streets! The idea! What is the name on that large building over there?”

“That’s the arcade,” volunteered a brisk young man who was looking out for possible boarders. “The jewelry store is there, and the art store; and all sorts of fancy-work classes meet there.”

Sherwood Memorial Studios and Arcade
Arcade and Sherwood Hall circa 1920

“Fancy-work classes!” repeated the dazed little woman. “Who imagined such frivolities at Chautauqua!”

Mrs. Dennis laughed. “You will have to accustom yourself to more startling changes than those,” she said. “Aren’t we all going to a hotel for the night? Imagine a hotel of any sort at Chautauqua! I confess I had some fears lest it should not be large enough for our party, but those houses in the distance reassure me. Do you remember the dining-halls and the man who told us which ever one we went to we should wish that we had taken the other?”

“I wonder where they were located?” said Mrs. Burnham. “One was on a hill, I remember; the hill must be here still, but I don’t seem to recognize even hills.”

Miller Park, 1906. In the background are the Miller Bell Tower and the steamboat landing.
Miller Park, 1906. In the background are the Miller Bell Tower and the steamboat landing.
Standing room only at the old Amphitheater. July 1895

Many things had changed since the girls’ first visit. By 1921 there were six to eight hundred all-year residents on the Chautauqua grounds; the summer session lengthened from twelve days to fifty; and Chautauqua’s summer population swelled to the thousands. But whether resident, worker or visitor, everyone who entered Chautauqua’s grounds had one thing in common: they had a ticket.

Before the Assembly opened each summer, every family had to obtain tickets. The only exceptions to the rule were children under the age of 9 and bedridden invalids. Even those who leased property on the grounds had to have tickets to enter and exit the grounds. Ticket prices were nominal, as illustrated in this table of charges from 1908:

Ticket Prices in 1908

On Sundays the gates were closed. No one was allowed to enter or exit on Sunday with one notable exception: Sunday passes were issued to any members of churches not represented at Chautauqua who wished to attend services in nearby Jamestown. Otherwise, Sunday passes could only be obtained in emergencies.

Once you were inside the gates, you had free access to the grounds and most classes or lectures. A map like this one from 1874 helped visitors navigate the streets and get to lectures on time. Click on the image for a larger view.

Map of Chautauqua 1874
Map of Chautauqua, 1874

Isabella Alden incorporated many of the Chautauqua Institution buildings and locations in her novels. Her descriptions were so vivid, it isn’t hard to imagine how the buildings looked in their natural, woodland settings. Here are some of the buildings and settings Isabella wove into her stories; many of them are marked on the 1874 map.

Chautauqua Amphitheater empty undatedAmphitheater. Located at the intersection of Clark and Waugh avenues, this remodeled venue seated almost 6,000 people. The choir gallery had seats for 500. In 1907 the Massey Memorial Organ was installed. Under the choir-loft and on either side of the organ were the Department of Music classrooms and offices.

Arts and Crafts Building in 1936

Arts and Crafts Building. On Vincent Avenue, this 1903 complex housed the Arts and Crafts School as well as shops. Henry Turner Bailey, who directed the Arts and Crafts School, was famous for delivering entertaining lecturing at the same time he drew pictures on the blackboard with both hands at once.

Miller Bell Tower and Pier, 1915

Bell Tower. Located at the Point beside the pier, the Miller Bell Tower was dedicated in 1911. The bells rang five minutes before the lecture hours and at certain times throughout the day. After the final bell each night, silence was supposed to reign across the grounds. It was near the Miller Bell Tower that Ruth first encountered Hazel crying near the shore in Four Mothers at Chautauqua.

Chautauqua The Colonnade 1909
The Colonnade Building circa 1909

Colonnade. Facing Miller Park from the intersection of Pratt and Morris avenues, the Colonnade was the business center of Chautuaqua. It housed the post office, a barber shop, a hair salon, a tea room, and various stores, including grocery, dry-goods, shoe, hardware and drug stores. Visitors approaching the Colonnade building from the right passed through a vine-covered pergola.

Chautauqua Vine Clad Pergola
The Vine Clad Pergola with The Colonnade in the background, 1909
The Golden Gate. Behind the gate you can see the steps leading up to the Hall of Philosophy, which was also known as “The Hall in the Grove”.

Golden Gate. The Golden Gate at St. Paul’s Grove was used once a year as part of the C.L.S.C. Recognition procession. No one was allowed to pass through the Gate except those who had completed a C.L.S.C. course of study. We’ll share more about the Golden Gate in future posts about the C.L.S.C.

The Hall of Christ from a 1909 postcard.

Hall of Christ. This monumental stone and brick building sat at the corner of Wythe and South avenues. Created by Bishop Vincent, it was used as a chapel for meditation and prayer; and as a place of quiet, spiritual fellowship.


Chautauqua Hall of Philosophy 1908 edited
The Hall of Philosophy. The long flight of steps led down toward The Golden Gate.

The Hall of Philosophy. Known as “The Hall in the Grove” to Isabella Alden fans, this structure, modeled after a Greek temple, was located in St. Paul’s Grove. It was a regular meeting place of the C.L.S.C. conferences and gatherings.

When Caroline Raynor first arrived at Chautauqua in the book, The Hall in the Grove, young Robert Fenton took her to see his favorite building.

“Now which way do you want to go?”

“Whichever way you are pleased to take me. I have not seen anything save what I couldn’t help looking at when we arrived.”

“Then I’m just going to take you to the Hall. The rest rush to the Auditorium first and rave over that. It is splendid, I suppose; large, you know, and makes one think of crowds and grand things. But I can’t imagine people enough here to fill it—not to begin! With the Hall, now, it is different; just a nice audience would fill that, and it is so white, and so—Oh, well! I can’t explain, only it’s nice, and you will like it. Some people don’t care about it much; but I know you will.”

“Thank you,” said Caroline, and her heart was smiling as well as her eyes. She understood the boy; imagined something of what he would have said if he could have expressed his feelings, and she understood and appreciated the delicately-sincere compliment.

“This is a lovely avenue that leads to your favorite building,” she said, as she turned back to look at the straight wide road they had traversed, lying clear-cut amid the shadows of the overhanging trees.

The Hall of Philosophy, viewed from the side.

“Isn’t it!” declared Robert, with ever-increasing enthusiasm. “This is another thing I like so much—this avenue. I’ll tell you, Caroline, when it must be just grand, and that is in full moonlight. Ha! There it is!”

It is impossible to describe to you the delight that was in the boy’s tones as the gleaming pillars of the Hall of Philosophy rose up before him; something in the purity and strength, and quaintness, seemed to have gotten possession of him. Whether it was a shadowy link between him and some ancient scholar or worshipper I cannot say, but certain it is that Robert Fenton, boy though he was, treading the Chautauquan avenues for the first time, felt his young heart thrill with a hope and a determination, neither of which he understood, every time he saw those gleaming pillars.

In the Hall’s concrete floor are inserted tablets in honor of the C.L.S.C. classes that contributed toward construction of the building. This diagram shows where each tablet was inlaid. You can see the tablet for Isabella Alden’s class of 1887 near the lower left corner. Click on the image to view a larger version.





Kellogg Memorial Hall, 1895.

Kellogg Hall, at Pratt-Ramble-Scott-Wythe avenues, was erected in 1889. The Kindergarten Department, Ceramics Department and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union had headquarters here.



Palestine Park, 1908.

Palestine Park. Located on the shore of Lake Chautauqua near Miller Park, this model of old Palestine was constructed as a teaching tool to illustrate lessons from the Bible. Watch for more on Palestine Park in a future Tour of Chautauqua blog post.


The Post Office as it looked in the 1920s.

Post Office. The Post Office was located on the same plaza as The Colonnade. It was in the post office that Burnham Roberts encountered the charming Hazel Harris in Four Mothers at Chautauqua.


The Post Office in 1913.

This photo from 1913 shows the busy Post Office. The number of people strolling through the plaza hints that it may have been a convenient thoroughfare for going from building to building on the grounds.



Chautauqua Post Office and Colonnade
The Plaza showing the Post Office on the right and the front of The Colonnade Building on the left. The ladies walking on the flower-bordered path will approach The Colonnade through the Vine-Clad Pergola.

There are many other places to explore at Chautauqua.

Next stop on our Tour of Chautauqua: Having fun.