Clipboard icon. This link bypasses navigation taking you directly to the contents of this page.


How to Use
the Readings


Inquiry Question

Historical Context


Reading 2



Table of

Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The National Chautauqua of Glen Echo

The Chautauqua movement began in 1874 as a summer education program held at a camp on the banks of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York state. Lewis Miller, an Ohio businessman, had a great interest in improving educational opportunities for Americans. With John Vincent, a minister and national secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, he began his reform efforts by training Sunday school teachers in a camp-like setting. Their first program, the Chautauqua Assembly, lasted for two weeks and drew 500 select pupils who camped out in large tents. These Sunday school teachers attended daily classes, evening concerts and lectures, and spent their free time enjoying water sports and hikes in the clean country air.

That first summer program was so valued by the teachers that the sponsors quickly expanded their program. Over the next few years people from around the world and of all religions began to participate in the Chautauqua movement. Dedicated to providing the masses with an opportunity for recreation and education such as the middle classes enjoyed, the movement also became popular because it allowed city dwellers to spend some of the hot summer weeks away from the congested cities. It provided a blend of summer camp and university. The reputation of the New York Chautauqua was bolstered by visits from Lewis Miller's old friend, President Ulysses S. Grant, and his son-in-law, the great inventor Thomas Alva Edison.

By 1891 the movement was renamed the Chautauqua Institution. This more dignified name reflected the movement's enlarged pool of participants, its increased meeting time to two months, the housing of participants in their own small cottages or boarding houses during the "season," and the expansion of the Chautauqua idea to 53 more sites around the nation. Glen Echo was one of those sites.

Brothers Edwin and Edward Baltzley decided to support the Chautauqua program, and in March 1891 they deeded 80 acres of their development to a corporation known as National Chautauqua of Glen Echo which would "promote liberal and practical education, especially among the masses of people; their several pursuits and professions in life, and to fit them for the duties which devolve upon them as members of society."1 Among the 42 prominent people who served as members of the corporation was John Wesley Powell, famous one-armed explorer of the Colorado River and the American West.

Construction began quickly on two principal structures—the Amphitheater, which seated 8,000 people and was one of the largest auditoriums in the country, and the Hall of Philosophy. A stone tower, archway, and adjoining buildings were also under construction when the Chautauqua opened in June of 1891. The entire complex was planned in a rustic style. The courses offered by the New York Chautauqua Institution included Bible study, teacher training, lectures, and devotional exercises, as well as courses in geography, chemistry, physics, the use of microscopes, Shakespeare, elocution, stenography, calisthenics, languages, and the arts (especially music and entertainment). The Glen Echo version of the program was equally broad. Its courses included music (both vocal and instrumental), American history, languages (including Latin, French, German, and Hebrew), "The Care and Development of Physical Powers," "Methods for Secular Teachers," "Modern Poets," "English Authors," astronomy, geology and Egyptology.2 The Chautauqua also offered evening entertainment in the form of band concerts, poetry readings, and dances. Following is an example of the type of special programs offered at Glen Echo:

The Schedule of Events for July 4, 1892
The program will "occupy the time from 2:20 to 7:30; so that during the entire afternoon and evening there will be attractions in the great amphitheater as well as the sylvan pleasures which the place affords in such abundance. The eminent actor and elocutionist, Charles B. Hanford, will recite 'The Star Spangled Banner,' and Marie Antoinette Nathalie Pollard will recite the Declaration of Independence in costume. A grand musical program made up of performances by soloists who are favorites in Washington has also been prepared. It will include selections by Signor Vitale, violinist; Mark C. Baker, tenor; Eva Augusta Vescillius, soprano, and Louise V. Shelden, contralto. The grounds will be reached either by the excursion barge which runs hourly from Potomac Street canal or by electric railway. Coaches will run for the benefit of those who do not care to walk the short distance from the railway to the amphitheater."3

The Glen Echo Chautauqua's first season was a great success. Then, tragedy struck when a teacher at the park died of pneumonia. Rumors spread through Washington, D.C., that he had died of malaria, a disease carried by certain mosquitoes. People became reluctant to visit the area. The residential lots being sold by the Baltzleys lost much of their value which, in turn, cut the cash flow needed for the continued development of the National Chautauqua. The official Chautauqua program was closed in July 1892. The Baltzleys rented out the facilities to travelling show companies for five years and then leased part of the site to the newly-formed Glen Echo Company, which installed a small amusement park. In 1911 the brothers sold the land to the Washington Railway and Electric Company, which continued to develop an amusement park. The Washington Railway and Electric Company sold the park in 1955 to Baker Brothers, which continued to operate the park until it closed in 1968.

Although few other national Chautauqua sites were able to keep operating through the years, the New York Chautauqua remains popular today. Eighth and ninth generation families return to occupy family cottages each year. Some groups that folded, such as the one in Boulder, Colorado, have become revitalized in recent years. In many other places the only connection people had to a Chautauqua program was the opportunity to attend an evening of lectures or musical events sponsored by traveling Chautauqua troops. Altogether, the Chautauqua movement did attain the goals of Lewis Miller's dream. For a time, a great many Americans were able to improve their general knowledge and their understanding of the arts during their summer vacations.

Questions for Reading 1

1. What was the goal of the first Chautauqua?

2. Why do you think Chautauquas developed around the country? Why was a Chautauqua developed at Glen Echo?

3. Can you figure out what a "sylvan pleasure" might be? You may need to use a dictionary. Why would it be such a pleasure for people to leave the city for a few weeks and go to the Chautauqua?

4. What types of activities could people participate in at the Chautauquas? Would you have enjoyed these activities?

5. What methods of transportation could the people of Washington, D.C., have used to get to the Glen Echo Chautauqua celebration on July 4, 1892?

6. Why did the Baltzleys close the Glen Echo Chautauqua?

7. Try to discover three options people had for entertainment 100 years ago. Do we do those things today? What do you think has caused changes in the way people spend their leisure time?

Reading 1 was compiled from Gary Scott and Bill Brabham, "Glen Echo Amusement Park" (Montgomery County, Maryland) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1984; and Richard Campen, Chautauqua Impressions (Chagrin Falls, Ohio: West Summit Press, 1984).

1 Gary Scott and Bill Brabham, "Glen Echo Amusement Park" (Montgomery County, Maryland) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1984, Section 8, p. 1.
2Woman's Executive Committee, National Chautauqua, 2-3.
3Washington Evening Star, June 30, 1892.



Comments or Questions

National Park Service arrowhead with link to NPS website.