After a quick drive through Bay View Michigan where we discovered beautiful Victorian houses, we learned this community was part of the Chautauqua movement from the late 1800’s. Although the movement slowly died out in the 1920’s this community has remained active from its founding in 1875.
Always interested in our country’s history I have done some research since coming home on the Chautauqua movement.
I found the word is an Iroquois word and means ““a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together.” This name apparently was given to the movement because the first such meeting took place near Chautauqua Lake in New York where the word described the shape of the lake.
Started by John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller in a Methodist camp meeting site, it was used as a summer school for Sunday School teachers. Although it started in this religious setting, it was more than just religious teaching.
It quickly spread throughout the country and attracted families to enjoy educators, preachers, musicians, orchestras while also enjoying camping and other outdoor summer activities.
Politicians also enjoyed speaking at these gatherings. The large crowds that attended these summer programs gave them a way to get their message out (before the days of television, Facebook and cable news). One of the most famous of those politicians was William Jennings Bryan. A Democrat who ran for president three times, Bryan was very adamant about the importance of making education available to all. He found the Chautauqua Movement an excellent way to make educational, religious and cultural programs open to all.
Theodore Roosevelt called it “the most American thing in America.”
The movement began to die out as television and other modern entertainment venues grew in popularity. However, today it is experiencing a come back. The idea of lifelong learning has gained importance again and the desire for cultural experiences is returning. There are existing Chautauqua communities throughout the USA.
The original Chautauqua is now a 750-acre education center in New York State. During the nine-week summer season at the Chautauqua Institution, over 7,500 persons enjoy the all the programs which include the four pillars of the movement: religion, recreation, arts and education. Courses are offered in art, dance, theater, writing among many other psecial interests.
The one we found in Bay View is definitely one I want to visit next summer. In addition to the beautiful homes and the programs they are offering, I look forward to enjoying the sunsets on beautiful Little Traverse Bay just across the street.
If you do not live near Michigan, check the map to find one of the many Chautauqua facilities and check it out.