Chautauqua History

The “Chautauqua Movement” was the start of correspondence schools for adult education. This movement began in 1873-74 in extreme western New York state. The Methodist Chautauqua Camp Meeting Association, founded by John Vincent and Lewis Miller, was initiated to educate Sunday school teachers by utilizing daily study, healthful recreation and summer relaxation. Lectures, concerts, readings and entertainment were soon added and the programs were opened to the general public.

By 1882, one of the first correspondence schools in the country was started — the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. This was a four-year adult education diploma program. It attracted as many as 60,000 participants. In 1902 the Chautauqua New York Institution reorganized and within seven years this entity had a summer resident population of up to 12,000 persons who lived and studied by Lake Chautauqua.

In 1904 the “Traveling Chautauquas” appeared during summer months as commercial ventures. These groups gave 3- to 10-day programs, usually in August, to residents of rural America. Activities were a cross between a revival meeting and a county fair. These commercial ventures lasted until about 1924. By then, most Traveling Chautauquas degenerated into a circus-type event highlighted by political and evangelical speeches and popular music. Thus, the Chautauqua eventually lost its identity as an intellectual or cultural educational effort; major universities instituted correspondence studies for adults and sponsored extension programs.


According to a history book published by the Daviess County Historical Society, the first Chautauqua was held locally in 1911. It became an annual affair at Dockery Park in Gallatin, attracting vast crowds from miles around. Former Missouri Gov. A.M. Dockery of Gallatin served as president for many years.

A large tent was provided for the people while they listened to many varieties of entertainment from traveling troupes. There were celebrated orators, musicians and magicians who provided entertainment afternoons and evenings. The morning program usually included music and a Bible study by a local minister, and a story hour for children.

The Hockensmiths were among the many families that attended Chautauqua held in Dockery Park, Gallatin, MO, each summer for a number of years. This photo taken in 1918 shows William Hockensmith, Olive Myrtle, Mary Margaret, and Grace holding Charlotte.

Residents brought their own tents and furniture to the park or rented them for the nine days of festivities. Season tickets were $2.25 for adults and $1.25 for children. Daily admission was 35 and 15 cents. Free telephone service and free ice water were provided. Watermelons, which were grown along the river, were also available and one night a watermelon feast was featured.

Women cooked for days to have food ready to take to the park to eat picnic fashion, but in 1917 a large tent was used as a dining hall with first-class meals cooked by Bob Ramsey (the father of the late Quo Vadis Ramsey). This was provided by the local YMCA. Many residents walked back to town each morning to gather garden produce, milk cows, feed the chickens and do other chores but then it was back to the park for the Chautauqua.

Chautauqua gathering underway at the Daviess County Courthouse in 1927

Old time Chautauqua programs faded from popularity with the advent of radio and television plus the impact of the automobile affecting virtually every aspect of our society.


By the mid-1980s one of the most successful annual events in Gallatin was a semi-annual flea market organized by Gallatin Lions Club. Over 125 booth spaces, leading off on streets in all directions from the square, attracted crowds numbering in the thousands for a weekend of business each spring and fall. A modern Chautauqua, initiated by banker Dan Lockridge and newspaper editor Darryl Wilkinson, added a slate of festival activities onto the fall flea markets beginning in 1986. The second modern Chautauqua was used to mark the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of Daviess County, MO (1837-1987).

For the first 15 years of modern Chautauqua, all festival activities were free (except for nominal admission charged for events held in Courter Theater). Expenses were covered by fundraisers such as a Chautauqua knife collection, afghan sales, and the annual offering of Daviess County Chautauqua crockery offered in series for collectors. Volunteers helped stretch dollars in many ways. The City of Gallatin applies band tax revenue into the mix.

Some years, additional funding came from grants provided by the Missouri Arts Council after a competitive application process. Grand funding added such events as folklore storytellers, vaudeville performers, and specialty music. The Daviess County Arts Council was organized primarily to take the local Chautauqua forward and, in large part, to leverage funding and additional advantages offered through the Missouri Arts Council. This development also was helpful for the development of Gallatin Theater League.

Re-enactments of the 1869 James Gang robbery, authentically on location at the southwest corner of the Gallatin square, were popular Chautauqua performances. Once, during a historical presentation focusing on the Civil War, a canon replica was loaded with “a half shot” of power and fired on the north side of the square. The deafening shot not only amazed spectators but prompted near hysteric concern among festival organizers watching large glass window panes in business buildings visibly quiver. After some urgent pleading, no additional shots were fired.

During the 19th modern day Chautauqua (2004), the dedication of the Veterans’ Walk of Honor was held. This was the official ceremony accepting a newly reconstructed carriage for the authentic Civil War canon rifle, located at the northeast corner of the courthouse lawn  The improvement was completed as Eagle Scout project by Jonathan Arnold, financed in part by engraved bricks purchased for display around the canon.

Scheduling events that repeated the most popular while adding new variety for fresh excitement has always been a challenge for Chautauqua organizers. Due to its late fall tradition, most traditional carnivals have already concluded their seasonal slate and choose instead to renew their circuit the following summer. Thus, the 2006 Gallatin Chautauqua was noteworthy in that it brought a carnival to town for the first time in many years. The traditional carnival set up on East Grand Street between the 4-way stop and city hall.

For some time the Chautauqua in Gallatin was the only community-wide activity scheduled in the fall aside from Homecoming activities at the school. Recently, two additional festivals of note have been added to the fall and winter slate: the Scare on the Square at Halloween and Christmas Around the Square, an early holiday event held in November.

Comments are closed