Montgomery County Illinois History

The annual Chautauqua, a major attraction from 1906 to 1931, started in 1905 at Litchfield; but when the electric interurban connected Litchfield and Hillsboro in 1906, residents of both towns selected a wooded tract of land halfway between the two places for a combined Litchfield-Hillsboro Chautauqua. The first directors for the Chautauqua were: J. K, McDavid, A. M. Howell, William Vawter, C. A. Ramsey, and J. B. Barringer, Hillsboro; Dr. R. F. Bennett, Dr. P. M. Kelly, E. H. Baldwin, Charles E. Morgan, J. A. Pappmeier, A. R. Stansifer, John Henley, Mrs. G. L. Settlemire, Mrs. G. W. Fisher, and J. T. Ogle, Litchfield.

Perhaps the chief pleasure of Chautauqua was simply in the assembly. There were programs, of course, featuring the great William Jennings Bryan, who gave his famous lecture "The Prince of Peace," Billy Sunday, Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr., Champ Clark, Sr., Opie Read, the Swiss Bell Ringers, magicians, musicians, and jugglers. Church and Sunday School were held regularly during the Chautauqua sessions. There were Home Talent Days, Athletic Days, Democratic Days, and Republican Days — days for this and days for that; but the memory of "meeting at Chautauqua," and the recollection of days of pleasant fellowship are stronger than the memory of any one program.

At first there was a hitching rack around one side of the grounds, but in later years the roads were heavy with the dust from automobiles. Inside the timbered grounds were grassy slopes and a lake for canoes.

A long rustic bridge crossed the lake, which was fringed with many cottages, a dining hall, a grocery store, and a soft drink stand. There were mosquitoes, too, but they are forgotten in the memories of quiet evenings in August and the play of moonbeams on the water.

Sunday night brought the two weeks' session to a close. Equipment was packed, and the weary campers prepared to board the interurban, or to climb into an automobile for the return journey. Some lingered for another week of life in the open.

The final program was given in 1931, and a few years later the cottages were sold and moved away. Chautauqua is now just a pleasant memory in the minds of hundreds of Montgomery County persons.

Taken From "Hillsboro Guide" 1940

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