180917_CHAUTAU

The old chautauqua grounds in Riverside Park, Janesville, in the early 1900s.

This photo of the chautauqua grounds in Riverside Park ran as a historical photo in the Feb. 29, 1936, Janesville Daily Gazette. It was actually taken about 30 years before.

The caption writer lamented the passing of the good old days as if the advent of the automobile crushed all that was good and wholesome.

The caption read: “Janesville was one of the great chautauqua centers of Wisconsin for many years until a quarter of a century ago, when the advent of the automobile in large numbers swept away boundary lines and put an end to the simple pleasures of an earlier generation. ... The spot where the chautauqua held forth each summer was the broad meadow just south of the present Riverside Park, an area now dotted with homes. Spectators reached the grounds by horse and buggy, carry-all, street car or river steamer. Many would drive to the chautauqua, unhitch their teams, and spend a whole day and evening on the grounds.”

Chautauquas were a sort of educational summer school. Temporary tents and stages were set up on the outskirts of town and offered entertainment in the form of speakers, preachers and musicians.

A half-page ad in the July 29, 1913, Janesville Daily Gazette announced, “Chautauqua begins Friday in the big white tent on Washington Street near Magnolia Avenue. Take the Washington Street cars direct to the grounds.”

“The Janesville Chautauqua is a six-day afternoon and evening theatre, you might say; it provides pastime and education—the very best—at about half price or less than 15 cents for each event.”

The program included “Concerts, Lectures, Vocal and Instrumental Entertainments, War Dances, Scenes of Indian Life, Illustrated Lectures, Humorous Sketches, Old Favorite Songs, ‘Battle of the Little Big Horn’ or ‘Custer’s Last Stand,’ Illustrated Travelogues, Musical Novelties, Readings, Impressions and Character Sketches.”

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