On a warm August day in 1873, a group of Methodist preachers unloaded axes and shovels to begin clearing a tract of land near Lakeside’s present-day Central Park. They built a podium, plank benches and several platforms of stone upon which fires would light the meetings to come. On the edge of the clearing, tents provided shelter for preachers and their families. People from the surrounding countryside arrived on foot and in wagons, for Lakeside’s first public event. It was an old-fashioned camp meeting revival with rousing hymns and preachings that matched the surrounding bonfires.
Lakeside’s official history began under the sponsorship of the Central Ohio Conference of the Methodist Church. Among the early organizers and financial backers were Alexander Clemons, the patriarch of one of the peninsula’s leading families; the Rev. Richard P. Duvall, a local Methodist minister and ex-missionary; B. H. Jacobs, an immigrant from Denmark, civil war veteran and Port Clinton store owner; and 27-year-old Samuel R. Gill who had grown up on the peninsula.
For the rest of the summer of 1873 and the next, revivals continued and the crowds grew. Methodists predominated, but other denominations were present and welcomed. A large shelter with a permanent roof and open sides was built near the site of today’s Hoover Auditorium. Members of the German-speaking Methodist Church joined in 1874 and would eventually build their own auditorium for programs. That building still stands today as South Auditorium.
A few cottages were built overlooking Lake Erie, while the tents multiplied. Sanitation was basic and beds were not much more than piles of straw covered with quilts and blankets. Cooking was usually done outdoors. Permanent wooden tent frames soon became cottages. Increasing crowds demanded more comfort and in May of 1875 the first unit of the Hotel Lakeside was built.
The Chautauqua Movement
Meanwhile in 1874, an Akron, Ohio manufacturer, Lewis Miller, and John Heyl Vincent, a Methodist minister, founded the Chautauqua Institution at Lake Chautauqua, New York. While its initial mission was to train Sunday school teachers, the Chautauqua venture soon expanded into a summertime center for adult education and cultural enrichment.
That powerful notion–a faith-based summer resort offering both religious and secular education–was to blossom into the Chautauqua Movement. By the early 1900s, more than 300 Chautauqua-style resorts associated with various Christian and Jewish congregations had been established from New Jersey to California.
The word Chautauqua became, and is today, the generic descriptive term for resorts that blend the summer season with religion, education, cultural arts and recreation. Most Chautauqua communities shared similar financial arrangements combining donations with admission fees. The fee entitled the guest to most if not all the organization’s programming.
The growing Chautauqua Movement was a natural fit for Lakeside. Its first Sunday school training sessions were held in 1877, which blossomed into a robust Chautauqua program full of religion, education, cultural arts and recreation opportunities during the 1890s. Those same four founding elements, or Chautauqua pillars, remain in place at Lakeside Chautauqua today.
Lakeside’s spiritual roots have remained strong throughout its long history. The early revivals and bible studies evolved into our modern program of Sunday worship, study groups and evening praise and prayer along the Lake Erie shore. Clergy and musicians of all faiths continue to inspire and guide Lakeside audiences with both traditional and contemporary services.
Lakeside continues its educational tradition with lectures ranging from health and wellness, history, music appreciation and much more. At a time when music and arts education is being eclipsed in American schools, our Fun with Music program for children and the C. Kirk Rhein, Jr., Center for the Living Arts offer a wonderful summertime alternative for all ages.
Educators from around the world have spoken at Lakeside, including Jane Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Gov. William McKinley, Speaker of the House Champ Clark, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, J.C. Penney, Lowell Thomas and Drew Pearson.
Sometimes the famous just dropped by for a visit. In the 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant joined fellow Civil War veterans in an annual reunion. President Rutherford B. Hayes was a guest at the Hotel Lakeside in 1891. With lights blazing in 1933, the Graf Zeppelin, predecessor of the ill-fated German dirigible Hindenberg, cruised over Lakeside on its way to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
Cultural offering have expanded exponentially throughout the years to include all varieties of arts and entertainment. Performers Victor Borge, Ray Charles, America, Capitol Steps, Peter Noone, Kathy Mattea, Melissa Manchester and Amy Grant have all graced Lakeside’s various stages.
21st Century Chautauqua
In our fast-paced world full of modern conveniences, many families are searching for a unique summer vacation to rest, renew and reconnect with loved ones.
Families gather for summer vacation, often times with an eye or an ear connected to life outside the gates with work or other responsibilities.
Parents and grandparents alike relax knowing that the children are safe and happy, and have plenty to do, see and hear each day. Lakesiders come from as far away as Australia and as nearby as Sandusky and Port Clinton to participate in the summer Chautauqua program. They stay for a day, weekend, week or the entire summer. There is also a handful that live on the grounds year-round.
Lakeside Chautauqua is a unique experience for each individual. We invite you to experience our Chautauqua community this summer in your own way; reconnect with family, grow spiritually, expand intellectually, unleash your creativity or challenge yourself physically. The opportunities are endless. You will soon realize why Lakeside Chautauqua has remained an annual tradition for generations of families.
Excerpts taken from content provided by William Jeffras Dieterich,The Story of Lakeside by O. L. Shepard and This is Lakeside 1873-1973, by James Allen Kestle. Books published by the Lakeside Heritage Society. Photos provided by the Lakeside Heritage Society Museum & Archives.