History of Winona Chautauqua Re-Lived

by Ruth Kain, Times Union Society Editor

The history of the Winona Chautauqua was the subject of an interesting talk by James Heaton when he addressed Zerelda Reading Club members, husbands and guests at his home recently.

Mrs. George Bowser was in charge of the program and the committee for the evening was composted of the officers: Mrs. J. N. Rodeheaver, president; Mrs. Byron Kennedy, first vice president; Mrs. Richard Glover, second vice president; and Mrs. Donald Scearce, secretary.

Mr. Heaton was for 30 years the platform manager at Winona Lake and was executive manager for 10 years. In these capacities he planned all the programs and hired the talent. He als had a fine tenor voice and was cast in the lead role in many of the plays. He is "Mr. Chautauqua" himself.

The rise and decline of the Chautauqua movement was described by Mrs. Bowser. It originated as a summer program for Sunday School teachers at Chautauqua Lake, N.Y. in 1874, and spread rapidly reaching a peak in 1924.

A rapid decline set in the following year, attributed to the popularity of radios and automobiles. But for 50 years the Chautauquas provided the only satisfaction for cultural hunger in small communities.

Origin of Winona Lake
In his talk Mr. Heaton pointed out that most of the land which now comprises the town of Winona Lake was originally sold to William Bashford on June 30, 1837 and consisted of 127.42 acres. After the death of Mr. Bashford the property fell into the hands of the Bashford heirs who sold it Dec. 13, 1852 to Dr. Jacob Boss. On March 13, 1872 Dr. Boss deeded the property to his son, Julius Boss, after having deeded to the Pennsylvania Railroad what is known as the Gravel Pit, the gravel of which was used in the construction of the railroad.

On May 6, 1881, the Beyer Brothers, J.F., C. C., and J. E., bought the property lying south of the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks consisting of 94 acres. This represented the front portion of the Winona Assembly property and was bounded by a line running east and west where the Hillside cottage stands, immediately south of what is now the Billy Sunday Tabernacle, and along 7th Street, running east and west, north of the Winona Presbyterian Church, thence east and one mile along the south line of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Later, the Wilcox property, where the Auditorium is located, and the Furlong and Kelly properties were acquired. The Furlong property included the Bethany Camp, now the Winona School of Theology. The Kelly property lay south of that and contained what is now the Chicago Boy's club property. The Kellys were grandparents of Mrs. George Heaton.

The Beyer brothers were produce men, large dealers in butter and eggs. Natural springs in the area created a means of refrigeration for their product. As buyers from large cities began doing business in Winona, the Beyers created entertainment facilities. A summer resort gradually evolved and in the early 1890's Spring Fountain Park, as the area was named, expanded into an amusement park. A roller coaster, two cycloramas one depicting the life of Christ, the other two Civil War battles, and even a race track appeared on the island. The race track lasted only two years, however, because of an agreement forbidding gambling.

In 1895 the Winona Bible Conference and Summer School purchased the land and inaugurated what became known as the Winona Movement, a chautauqua that was a combination of religion and entertainment. Others, up to this time, had been totally one or the other.

Fence Erected
A fence was erected around the town with a turnstile entrance near the north end. Streets leading from Kings Highway were fenced off, with gates at 4th , 7th, and 13th streets. Everyone, even those who lived there, paid to enter the grounds. The cost was not high, $6 entitled one to all the programs for the season, whch was more than six weeks long. Students, ministers and cottage owners were admitted for $3. The gates remined in use until 1930.

Five schools were offered: Normal School, held in the building which is now the Free Methodist Headquarters; Agriculture School, in the Westminister Hotel; Girl's School, in the Winona Hotel; Boy's School in the Daguerre (Photography) School building; and the Music School, located in a building that later burned at 7th Street and Kings Highway. Some of the famous directors of the Winona Bible Conference and Summer School included H. J. Heinz, the canned food magnate; John M. Studebaker, maker of wagons and later automobiles; and Alexander MacDonald, president of Standard Oil of Ohio.

Tourists arrived by many methods. The Pennsylvania Railroad stopped by the Eagle Arcade where passengers could disembark and visit the restaurants and shops. The big Four Railroad was met by a launch that brought passengers to Winona through a canal west of the present high school. Local residents came by street car, horse and buggy, and eventually by car. The Interurban Electric Line, which was 64 miles long, ran near Winona. This railroad was called the "connecting link" as it joined the New York Central at Goshen to the Wabash Railroad at Peru.

The powerhouse for this railroad was located near the present Litchfield Creamery. It also served the local street cars and provided electricity for Warsaw and Winona. The heat was piped under Chestnut street. Room and board ranged from $6 to $10 a week. Besides the larger hotels, Westminister Hotel, Winona Hotel and the Inn Hotel, one could stay at the Swiss Terrace, the Franconia, the Otterbein, or the Heights, to name a few.

The grounds were beautifully kept. Fish ponds, flower gardens and statuary abounded. Mr. Heinz gave "The Student", a statue carved in Paris, the "Stone Lion" made in China; and a large bell from the Boxer Rebellion. The latter stood east of the old Auditorium, which seated 2,000 persons.

In order to balance the budget, the Winona Society inaugurated a few other money raising ventures beside admissions. At the site of the present skating rink was a boathouse with 200 boats for rent, the only ones available.

A bathouse could be used for 10 cents and a bathing suit rented for an additional fee.

A steamer, "City of Warsaw," could accommodate 150 passengers on a leisurely cruise around Eagle, as Winona Lake was then called, and Little Eagle Lakes.

The Society also owned a golf course, east of the present Arnolt Corporation, a souvenir store, restaurant and a drug store. Rooming houses had to pay a 5 per cent commission on rents collected.

There was always something to do in Winona. One could attend the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, which met every morning, a cooking school or a heath lecture. Plays, modern as well as Shakespeare, magicians, movies, religious operas, children's operettas, band concerts and special events were scheduled.

Venetian Night
One special event was the annual Venetian Night. Seats were erected along the canal, boats donated by the Society were gaily decorated along given themes, and prizes awarded. The last such pageant was held in 1917 when a near tragedy occurred. A float denoting the homes of a drunkard and a temperance man capsized when the drunkard fell overboard and the other passengers all rushed to his aid.

Col. Herbert Petrie's White Hussars Band was a crowd favorite. An artist or attraction was usually invited to appear once every two or three years. The White Hussars performed in Winona eight out of ten years, something of a record on the Chautauqua Circuit.

Homer and Billy
Two men whose names have become synonymous with Winona Lake were Homer Rodeheaver and Billy Sunday. Homer Rodeheaver was described by Mr. Heaton as a versatile entertainer who could sense the mood of an audience and adapt his performance to it. He was not only a liberal donor to the Winona Society, but through his School of Music sponsored the appearance of such famous artists as Marian Tally, Gladys Swarthout and The Travelers. His younger sister, Ruth Thomas, studied voice in Europe and returned to teach at the School of Music. She was an artist in her own right and sang with Homer for the Chautauqua programs.

Rev. Billy Sunday, a former baseball player who converted more than a million persons to Christianity in his lifetime, never charged for his appearances in Winona, and all donations given on Monday nights, wherever he was speaking, were donated to the Winona Assembly. The Billy Sunday Tabernacle was dedicated in 1920.

Several members of Zerelda Reading Club had close connections with the Chautauqua movement. Mrs. Louis Jonas' grandfather, George V. Roscoe, was director of a band and orchestra that played in Winona for several complete summers. Mrs. J. N. Rodeheaver was for three years the official accompanist at the famous Lakeside Chautauqua in Ohio. Mrs. Petrie sang with her husband's band, the White Hussars.

Famous Lecturers
Lecturers who appeared here included William Jennings Bryan, the "silver tongued orator," who was president of the Winona Assembly for two years; Adm Richard E. Byrd and Ronald Amundsen, Arctic explorers; Thomas R. Marshall, Vice President of th eUnted States under Woodrow Wilson, and a native of North Manchester and Columbia City; Russell Conwell, author of "Acres of Diamonds"; Glenn Curtiss, aircraft builder and inventor; and Will Rogers, not an artist but an "institution", according to Mr. Heaton.

Poets appearing at Winona included James Whitcomb Riley and Edgar A. Guest. The list of operatic stars and instrumental virtuosos included all the great names of the period, e.g., Mme. Ernestine Schumann-Heinck, Amelita Galli-Curci, Mischa Elman, Charlotte Lund, Evan Williams, Efrem Zimbalist and Albert Spaulding.

Mr. Heaton, now 92 years old, presented all these famous people, and many more, to the Winona Chautauqua stage as master of ceremonies. In many instances he also conducted them around the grounds. In his possession are actual recordings and autographed pictures of many of these stars of yesteryear.


Warsaw Times-Union Monday Nov. 15, 1971 page 4

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