Tag Archives: John Vincent

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teacher’s Retreat

23 Jan

Before there was a Chautauqua, there was a Teachers’ Retreat. The first meeting was formally named “The National Sunday School Assembly,” and it was held at Fair Point, New York on Lake Chautauqua in August, 1874. In years to come, people would refer to it as the first Chautauqua Assembly; but at the time, no one who attended the modest gathering of Sunday school workers could envision what it would eventually become.

John Vincent and Lewis Miller

John Vincent and Lewis Miller

That first assembly was a meeting to talk shop about Sunday schools. Attendees studied a “definitive” course of instruction, heard lectures on “subjects illustrative of the Bible,” and learned teaching skills. At the end of the three-week-long assembly, attendees took a written examination on Bible knowledge and Sunday school work.

In charge of it all was the Honorable Lewis Miller, a Sunday school superintendent from Akron, Ohio and Dr. John Vincent of the Methodist Church.

Dr. Vincent had long held the belief that Sunday school teachers must have appropriate training to be effective in leading their classes. As far back as 1864 he wrote a regular column in the Sunday School Journal, a monthly publication of the Methodist Church, advocating that ideal.

Banner for Sunday School Journal 1883

 

Together Dr. Vincent and Mr. Miller developed a plan to bring together a large group of Sunday school workers to study a proscribed course that included Bible lectures, ancient geography, and educational theory; and issue diplomas to those who passed a written exam based on the course work.

But it was Mr. Miller who is credited with the idea of holding the retreat in the woods, rather than in a city. He chose to convene the gathering in the Fair Point area on the shore of Lake Chautauqua in New York.

Old black-and-white photo of small boats on Lake Chautauqua off the shore of Fair Point with Point Chautauqua in the distance

Fair Point with Point Chautauqua in the background.

 

The main meeting place was out of doors where a platform had been set up in an open area that would eventually become Miller Park. Someone—maybe Mr. Miller himself—ironically called the gathering area the “auditorium” and the name stuck.

Blacdk and white photograph of several rows of flat plank wooden benches spaced outdoors among the trunks of tall trees.

The original Chautauqua meeting area

 

The Assembly opened on Tuesday evening, August 4, 1874, with a brief responsive service of Scripture and song, offered by Dr. Vincent. He later wrote about that memorable first meeting:

“The stars were out and looked down through trembling leaves upon a goodly well-wrapped company, who sat in the grove, filled with wonder and hope. No electric light brought platform and people face to face that night. The old-fashioned pine fires on rude four-legged stands covered with earth, burned with unsteady, flickering flame, now and then breaking into brilliancy by the contact of a resinous stick of the rustic fireman, who knew how to snuff candles and how to turn light on the crowd of campers-out. The white tents around the enclosure were very beautiful in that evening light.”

Old photo of of men and women in late 18th century dress, seated in Auditorium benches

An early photo of an audience gathered in the original Auditorium

 

The tents Dr. Vincent mentioned were erected at each of the four corners of the auditorium where the first Normal classes were held.

The Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut described how the Normal Class was conducted with precision.

“At eight o’clock the teachers of the different section-classes were called together for a conversazione concerning the subjects to be presented to the class. At ten o’clock one session of the Normal class was held for an hour. At 1:30 was a report and review of the morning lessons; and at two o’clock another session of the classes. The classes—for while all studied the same lesson there were four sections—each met in a tent. . . . Students were expected to attend the same tent regularly, but the instructors were changed daily from tent to tent. But, in spite of the rules, students would watch to see where favorite teachers entered, and would follow them.”

Black and white photograph of men and women seated in the Auditoriam amid the trees

An early gathering at the original Chautauqua Auditorium

 

The examination was held on the last day of the two-week program. There were fifty written questions: twenty-five on the topics of Sunday school and teaching; and twenty-five on the Bible.

Black and white photo of the open-air Auditorium from the back. The audience benches have backs on and they face a raised platform stage.

A later photograph of the Auditorium on the Chautauqua Sunday School Assembly Grounds. Still in the open air, the bench seats now have backs on them.

 

Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut wrote many times about the exam and how tough it was. Those “who passed the examination and received the diploma were not more than a tenth of those who attended the classes.”

The first year over 200 people sat down to take the fifty-question exam. After five hours of wrestling with the questions, 184 people completed the exam; but of those, only 142 actually passed the exam and received diplomas.

In 1875, the second year of the Assembly, 123 passed the exam; and two years later, more than 300 Sunday school workers received diplomas.

Each year the course-work expanded. By 1883 the teachers’ retreat offered lessons in languages, crayon sketching, paint, choir practice, clay modeling, sciences, as well as instruction in teaching different grades. A Ph.D. from Dickinson College delivered several lectures on psychology and taught practical ways teachers could use principles of psychology in their work. Almost every form of instruction for teaching was covered.

Black and white photograph of women standing at lab desks and shelves stocked with bottles and beakers

A Chautauqua chemistry class, 1885

 

The Teachers’ Retreat wasn’t just lectures and class work. Teachers attended concerts, competed in spelling bees, and compared notes while they mingled at receptions.

From year to year the subject matter expanded. By the time the Teachers Retreat celebrated its twentieth anniversary, the original premise of training Sunday school workers had become a small fraction of the Chautauqua University academic program.

In fact, the Teachers’ Retreat had evolved into a meeting of secular school teachers by 1885, as this ad in the Journal of Education shows.

1885 Advertisement from the Boston Journal of Education listing the program and benefits of attending the teachers' retreat.

Advertisement in an 1885 edition of the Boston Journal of Education

 

There was a practical reason for the Chautauqua Teachers’ Retreat to expand its offerings as it did. In the nineteenth century, Sunday schools were often the only education many American children received. Children who could not, for one reason or another, attend school, could regularly attend church; and it was there that many received their only instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, in addition to training in the Bible.

As its catalog of academic classes expanded, so did the student body. Enrollment in the teachers’ retreat doubled, then tripled. By 1918 more than 3,000 students were enrolled and the faculty numbered ninety instructors.

Black and white photo of a building with aa large front porch and gingerbread trim, set among tall trees.

Chautauqua Normal Hall as it appeared in 1895. The building was erected ten years earlier by the Alumni of The Sunday School Normal Classes.

 

Every year thousands of men and women left the Teachers’ Retreat and returned home with a new ideal of Sunday school work and an inspired plan for influencing others. Very quickly, Bishop Vincent’s office was overwhelmed with requests for information about the program and for teachers.

Newspapers helped spread the fame of Chautauqua. Click here to read an article in the New York Times published August 10, 1875, about the second Chautauqua Assembly.

Soon, “daughter” Chautauqua Assemblies were established in different parts of the country so more people could attend. By 1890 there were over 30 active Chautauqua Summer Assemblies, ranging from Southern California to Maine, from Canada to  England.

At the heart of each Assembly was the Teachers’ Retreat, where the best teachers learned their craft from Chautauqua’s visionaries and leaders, John Vincent and Lewis Miller.

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

16 Oct

At Chautauqua, opportunities for learning weren’t confined to classrooms and lecture halls. Dr. John Vincent, a Methodist minister and co-founder of the Chautauqua Institute, was a great proponent of learning in the out-of-doors. He embraced the forest setting and set out to make Chautauqua the standard for open air summer schools throughout the country and the world.

Chautauqua Model of Palestine One notable example of Dr. Vincent’s vision of a fresh-air classroom was Palestine Park. He came up with the concept of making a miniature model of the Holy Land so students could get a visual sense of the settings they learned about in their Bible classes.

Sign describing Palestine Park

Text of the sign posted at the entrance to Palestine Park. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Palestine Park was constructed near the pier on the shore of Lake Chautauqua. The lake itself represented the Mediterranean Sea. Nearby were representations of the cities of the Philistines, Joppa and Caesarea, Tyre and Sidon.

The Mountain Region showed the famous places of Israelite history from Beersheba to Dan. The sacred mountains Olivet and Zion, Ebal and Gerizem were built. And there were also the River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea.

Guide Book to Palestine ParkSmall plaques identified each place of interest and included Bible verses that mentioned the site. In 1920 Dr. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut published a guide to Chautauqua’s Palestine Park. Click on this cover image to read Dr. Hurlbut’s guide.

 

Old postcard of Chautauquans enjoying Palestine Park.

The model of Palestine was one of the most popular sites at Chautauqua. Theology students regularly walked the area of Palestine Park, notebooks in hands. And Sunday school teachers held classes there, sometimes on the hills around Nazareth to illustrate a lesson on the boyhood of Jesus.

A Lecture on the Model of Palestine 1895

A Lecture on the Model of Palestine, 1895

Isabella Alden was very familiar with Palestine Park, and described it in Four Girls at Chautauqua. In the book, Eurie Mitchell and Flossy Shipley decide to walk to Palestine together one evening:

“Come,” Eurie said, “you have been to meetings enough, and you haven’t taken a single walk with me since we have been here, and think of the promises we made to entertain each other.”

Flossy laughed cheerfully.

“We have been entertained, without any effort on our part,” she said. Nevertheless she suffered herself to be persuaded to go for a walk, provided Eurie would go to Palestine.

“What nonsense!” Eurie said, disdainfully, when Flossy had explained to her that she had a consuming desire to wander along the banks of the Jordan, and view those ancient cities, historic now. “However, I would just as soon walk in that direction as any other.”

There was one other person who, it transpired, would as soon take a walk as do anything else just then. He joined the girls as they turned toward the Palestine road. That was Mr. Evan Roberts.

“Are you going to visit the Holy Land this morning, and may I be of your party?” he asked.

“Yes,” Flossy answered, whether to the first question, or to both in one, she did not say. Then she introduced Eurie, and the three walked on together, discussing the morning and the meetings with zest.

“Here we are, on ‘Jordan’s stormy banks,’” Mr. Roberts said, at last, halting beside the grassy bank. “I suppose there was never a more perfect geographical representation than this.”

“Do you really think it has any practical value?” Eurie asked, skeptically. Mr. Roberts looked at her curiously.

“Hasn’t it to you?” he said. “Now, to me, it is just brimful of interest and value; that is, as much value as geographical knowledge ever is. I take two views of it. If I never have an actual sight of the sacred land, by studying this miniature of it, I have as full a knowledge as it is possible to get without the actual view, and if I at some future day am permitted to travel there, why—well, you know, of course, how pleasant it is to be thoroughly posted in regard to the places of interest that you are about to visit; every European traveler understands that.”

“But do you suppose it is really an accurate outline?” Eurie said, again, quoting opinions that she had read until she fancied they were her own.

Again Mr. Roberts favored her with that peculiar look from under heavy eyebrows—a look half satirical, half amused.

“Some of the most skilled surveyors and traveled scholars have so reported,” he said, carelessly. “And when you add to that the fact that they are Christian men, who have no special reason for getting up a wholesale deception for us, and are supposed to be tolerably reliable on all other subjects, I see no reason to doubt the statement.”

On the whole, Eurie had the satisfaction of realizing that she had appeared like a simpleton.

Flossy, meantime, was wandering delightedly along the banks, stopping here and there to read the words on the little white tablets that marked the places of special interest.

“Do you see,” she said, turning eagerly, “that these are Bible references on each tablet? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what they selected as the scene to especially mark this place?”

Mr. Roberta swung a camp-chair from his arm, planted it firmly in the ground, and drew a Bible from his pocket.

“Miss Mitchell,” he said, “suppose you sit down here in this road, leading from Jerusalem to Bethany, and tell us what is going on just now in Bethany, while Miss Shipley and I supply you with chapter and verse.”

“I am not very familiar with the text-book,” Eurie said. “If you are really in the village yourselves you might possibly inquire of the inhabitants before I could find the account.” But she took the chair and the Bible.

“Look at Matthew xxi. 17, Eurie,” Flossy said, stooping over the tablet, and Eurie read:

“‘And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.’”

“That was Jesus, wasn’t it? Then he went this way, this very road, Eurie, where you are sitting!” It was certainly very fascinating.

“And stopped at the house on which you have your hand, perhaps,” Mr. Roberts said, smiling at her eager face.

“That might have been Simon’s house, for instance.”

“Did he live in Bethany? I don’t know anything about these things.”

“Eurie, look if you can find anything about him. The next reference is Matthew xxvi.”

And again Eurie read:

“‘Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper.’”

“The very place!” Flossy said, again. “Oh, I want so much to know what happened then!”

Eurie, Flossy, and Mr. Roberts spent the better part of the day at Palestine Park, following the plaques from one location to the next and reading verses out of Mr. Roberts’s Bible.

Model of Palestine with Miller Park and Bell Tower in the background

Palestine Park was among the great attractions at Chautauqua and, as Isabella mentioned in her book, it received accolades from Biblical scholars of the time because of its accuracy and geographical precision.

But Palestine Park did have one major flaw, which was alluded to in the sign that marked the entrance to the model. In order to use Chautauqua Lake to represent the Mediterranean Sea, the geography of the Holy Land had to be flipped; north had to be south, and east was made the west.

Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, D.D.

Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, who regularly used the park as part of his theology lectures and children’s Sunday school classes, explained:

“Chautauqua has always been under a despotic though paternal government and its visitors easily accommodate themselves to its decrees. But the sun persists in its independence, rises over Chautauqua’s Mediterranean Sea where it should set, and continues its sunset over the mountains of Gilean, where it should rise. Dr. Vincent and Lewis Miller [the founders of the Chautauqua Institute] could bring to pass some remarkable, even seemingly impossible achievements, but they were not able to outdo Joshua and not only make the sun stand still, but set it moving in a direction opposite to its natural course.”

Over the years, Palestine Park was repaired, rebuilt and expanded to add a model of Jerusalem and its surrounding hills, as well as Bethlehem, Jericho, and other places of interest until, ultimately, it almost doubled in size.

 

Palestine Park as it looked in 1908

 

Palestine Park in 1914

Click on the map below to see where Palestine Park was located on the Chautauqua Institution grounds. You’ll find it on the shore of Lake Chautauqua near the steamboat landing at The Point.

Map of Chautauqua 1874

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