Now that summer is here and the temperatures are climbing, do you ever find yourself wondering what people did before air conditioning? Isabella hints at the answer in some of her stories, when a few of her lucky fictional characters got to leave their hot, humid city homes for cooler locations, such as beaches or mountains.
Isabella knew of which she wrote. She frequently spent her summers at Chautauqua Institution in New York, where she could enjoy the lake and cool breezes; and in Florida, where she had a large family home in Winter Park, and a smaller cottage in Defuniak Springs.
Then, in the summer of 1883 Isabella traveled to Tennessee, where she was one of the first visitors to the newly-opened Monteagle Sunday-school Assembly.
Monteagle was situated on 100 acres of land atop a mountain in Tennessee’s Cumberland range. Its location quickly made it a favorite resort for people from all over the American south.
Bishop John Heyl Vincent, one of the co-founders of the original Chautauqua Institution of New York, visited Monteagle, too. He hailed it for supplying “recreation for tired men, women and children by gathering them on the mountain top where pure air and good music and earnest lectures would rest and entertain them.”
In many ways Monteagle Assembly was very similar to its northern cousin. Like Chautauqua it initially began as a training convention for Sunday-school teachers. In its early days Monteagle was just as rustic as Isabella described the early days of the New York assembly in Four Girls at Chautauqua. Tents provided the only sleeping accommodations, the dining hall had few dishes and cutlery, and lectures and sermons were held out of doors at the whim of Mother Nature.
Even the offices of the Monteagle Chautuaqua Literary and Scientific Circle were first housed in a modest tent until a permanent building for the C.L.S.C. could be erected.
But Monteagle did not stay rustic for long. The assembly planned to erect an amphitheatre, a hotel, a dining hall, a library, meeting halls and classrooms.
In 1883 the organizers published their ambitious plan for the property in the local newspaper. (You can click on the map to see a larger version.)
The amphitheatre that was ultimately built was modeled after the Grand Opera House of Paris and could hold 2,000 people.
The designers also included plenty of room for charming cottages, colorful gardens, and rambling walking paths.
There’s no record to tell us how many times Isabella visited Monteagle; but we do know she enjoyed the place so much, she published a novel about it in 1886, titled simply, Monteagle.
In her story, city girl Dilly West—whose health suffered terribly because of hot summer tenement living conditions in the city—blossomed when she had the chance to go to Monteagle.
When asked what she liked most about Monteagle Assembly, Dilly immediately credited the fresh mountain air:
“Why, I fancy everything; the trees, and the flowers, and the birds, and the lovely breeze. There wasn’t ever any breeze in the city; at least, there never came any down where we lived. It was just like an oven all the time; it makes me feel faint to think how hot it must be there this morning; and only see how the curtains blow here!”
Through Dilly’s story Isabella was able to describe the beauty of Monteagle’s location. Dilly wrote home to her father to describe her hike up to the top of Table Mountain to see the sunset:
Father, I do just wish I could tell you about it! All gold, and crimson, and purple mountains all around, and red streaks away up into the sky, and castles in the sky made of glory color, and angels hurrying around to get ready for the sun to come home; that is the way it seemed, you know.
Dilly described other experiences in her letters home, including the things she learned on nature walks, at lectures in the amphitheater, and—most importantly—during Sunday-school classes:
Dear father, something very wonderful has come to me; I decided yesterday that I would belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Isabella wrote those words she knew Dilly’s fictional experience was similar to the real-life experiences many visitors had at Monteagle.
In fact, Monteagle Sunday School Assembly was so successful, it remains a thriving Chautauqua community today!
Or click here to take a look at their latest newsletter that describes the many activities, lectures, Bible studies and sermons they have to offer.