Our County History
by County Historian Marion W. Coplen

Thirty-two years ago this week (on Aug. 7, 1920) the "Billy" Sunday tabernacle at Winona Lake was first used for a public service. At the time the tabernacle was considered the finest of its kind in America and still ranks among the top.

This building was sorely needed by Winona Lake because the old auditorium, which had been built during Winona's infancy, was no longer adequate for the great crowds which came each summer to see and hear the famous chautauqua programs. Just prior to the building of the tabernacle the advice of the public to Winona was "before you advertise big attractions provide adequate accommodations."

So in the spring of 1920 Louisville architects sketched the design for the building and the structure was completed and ready for use by Aug. 7. Much of the money for the building was raised by public subscription, and during the winter of 1921 Billy Sunday paid for extensive improvements.

Perhaps some of our readers sat in the audience on that August day in 1920. Homer Rodeheaver played his trombone for the singing, conducted the first service. Billy Sunday dedicated the building and from Aug. 12 to 18 conducted the first revival services held there. On Aug. 19 Madame Gali-Curci presented the first concert on the tabernacle stage.

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Many famous people have appeared on the stage of the tabernacle for concerts and addresses. In the 1921 season the Winona chautauqua program ended with four big programs. Galli-Curci sang one evening; the "Mikado" was presented the next. Former Vice President, Thomas R. Marshall from Columbia City and Governor Henry J. Allen, of Kansas spoke on the third and fourth nights, respectively. On Saturday evening, Aug. 2, Indiana Senator James E. Watson delivered an address on the "State of the Union".

John Philip Sousa and his band gave two fine concerts on the afternoon and evening of July 18, 1925. It would be interesting to see a complete list of the people and organizations who have appeared on the Winona chautauqua stage.

The old auditorium had its share of famous visitors too. In 1915, for example an appearance by Helen Keller, a concert by Madame Schuman-Heink, sermons by Billy Sunday and Bob Jones, and a speech by statesman William Jennings Bryan highlighted the August programs.

Warsaw Times-Union Sat. Aug. 9, 1952