Where Chautauqua Began

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Walton Park Litchfield Illinois
Walton Park Litchfield Illinois

Where Chautauqua Began

It is known that Walton Park was much older and went by the name of Reservoir Park back in 1905, when the first Litchfield Chautauqua program was held.

The first Litchfield Chautauqua Association was formed by interested men of the community combining forces with Litchfield Woman's Club to promote "high class entertainment" by offering "something that will benefit and uplift intellectually and morally."

Booked to speak at the first Chautauqua were Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who spoke to an estimated crowd of 8,000 on Aug. 6, 1905, and "temperance fanatic" Carry Nation, who gave an "extremely abusive " talk to from 3,000 to 4,000 spectators.

An editor of The News writing a report of her speech said she "shook her fat, pudgy fist" at the crowd when the more aggressive of her detractors chose to hiss in response to her remarks. Undeterred by her reception, Nation stayed after the program to sell souvenir hatchets, symbol of her favorite tool for destroying saloons.

In 1906, civic leaders in Litchfield and Hillsboro joined forces to establish Midway Chautauqua along the new Illinois Traction interurban tracks midway between the cities, and for the next quarter of a century the Chautauqua grounds (30 acres with lake and campsites) was this area's most popular gathering spot during the summer months.

In the summer of 1907, when William Jennings Bryan made his second appearance at Chautauqua, the interurban cars hauled 12,445 passengers on the final day of the program.

Part Of Our Past

From The Hillsboro & Montgomery County News

Google "Chautauqua Lane Hillsboro" for a map showing the former location of the Litchfield / Hillsboro Chautauqua. It's near WSMI.

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Jeff Dunn

Vice President

Historical Society of

Montgomery County

Advisory Board

Illinois State

Historical Society