January 29, 2019

We’re lightening Jacksonville’s January gloom with the story of how Chautauqua came to town! Chautauqua was a highly popular adult education movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that brought speakers, teachers, musicians, showmen, and preachers to cities and rural communities. President Theodore Roosevelt described Chautauqua as “the most American thing in America.” In 1924 and 1925, an inspired Jacksonville City Council persuaded enough backers to secure a week of entertainment from the Ellison-White Chautauqua Company. Lacking a grand auditorium or park, Jacksonville’s first season was held in the high school gymnasium; the second in the U.S. Hotel ballroom. Season tickets sold for $2, enough to secure “wholesome college-type entertainers who presented genteel program material.” One of the highlights of the first season was the Rouse “All Sisters Quartet,” 4 saxophone-playing sisters from Iowa. Regrettably, both seasons ended in a deficit. Medford was campaigning to become the county seat, Jacksonville was becoming a backwater, and citizens had become more concerned with necessities than culture. But for a brief period, Jacksonville still enjoyed a touch of glamor.