The picture of the tents and people is a "Chautauqua" picture taken at the fairgrounds at the west edge of Princeton. Redpath Vawter was the usual company which contracted for the Chautauqua programs and they provided tents, wooden chairs for seating, and other amenities, as well as the programs. People would rent a tent for the duration of the Chautauqua or even for just an overnight stay and these were set up in the park, which also housed the platform and whatever was used at the Chautauqua. Tickets were purchased for a particular session, whole day, or for the duration of the Chautauqua. It was not unusual for the elite of the area to rent a tent for the week.

There is a town in SW New York State called Chautauqua and the Chautauqua, as we know it, was first started in 1874 in that town. Coe College started a summer school program, which was to be both educational and recreational and which included lectures, concerts, etc. Redpath Vawter was a Chautauqua system, which took these programs nationwide. Chloe Kauffman Lowry gave a program about the Chautauquas back in the early 1900s and she had a wooden folding chair with Redpath Vawter stenciled in red on the back of the chair. She also had pictures similar to the one on the MOMercer website and it was she who told us about the tents, etc.

The "street scene" in the picture is the "street of tents," which was erected each year for the Chautauqua. There was and still is a park on the east side of the river at the west edge of Princeton and this could accommodate many, many people by the hundreds and sometimes into the thousands. (The old Civil War soldiers had Encampments in the park and they usually had at least 2,000 or more old soldiers there. This would have been at the turn of the 1900s. One Encampment was reported to have drawn 10,000 people to Princeton. They had to have brought their own tents, but where they pitched tents for that kind of a crowd, I simply can't imagine.)

I have a program for the Princeton, MO Chautauqua for 1910 which ran from August 14 to August 20, 1910. From the 1910 brochure from the Redpath-Vawter Chautauqua System are the following items:

"Sunday--The early evening Vesper services, that proved so enjoyable to our patrons last year, will be conducted this season. Suitable Vesper literature will be furnished free; Concert at 2:30 p.m. by the Kirksmith Orchestra; Popular Lecture at 3:00 p.m. on 'Why?' by Dr. Mattison W. Chase; Concert 7:30 p.m. Kirksmith Orchestra (billed as composed of six sisters--JV); An evening of rare fun, Miss Evelyn Bargelt, Cartoonist--Reader, Superb Entertainer."

On Monday, the festivities started with
"King Arthur's Court," which was a program for children and it featured all kinds of entertainment, including a puppet theater--9:00 a.m.; then a morning lecture at 10:45 a.m.; then a break for lunch, and the afternoon started with a concert at 2:30 p.m. and featured the Royal Italian Guards Band, which had 3 half-hour programs during the afternoon and evening and this was interspersed with lectures.

Monday was all male entertainment, then the rest of the week was fairly well divided between men and women entertainers. Season tickets in 1910 were $1.50, if the ticket was purchased in advance, or $2.00 at the gate. There are pictures of all the entertainers in the programs. They were considered as programs of educational material.

I've heard my Dad talk about going to the Chautauqua in Princeton and that he heard William Jennings Bryan speak and also heard Frank James of the James brothers speak. His brother, Jesse, was the notorious bank robber. My parents always took food from home, when we went to the fair or any other event. I'm assuming that Redpath Vawter probably had food, or else there were concession stands by the local merchants.

The biggest modern Chautauqua that I know about is the one at Boulder, Colorado. It has cottages for rent instead of tents and it lasts over a period of months each year. Their programs for 2004 are on the Internet. The Chautauqua still came to the Princeton park up into the 1930s, but I never attended any of the performances. The depression had hit and there wasn't even a cent left over for entertainment, although I'm sure my parents would have liked to have been able to take their three kids to the Chautauqua.

Jennie Vertries


Copyright 2008 by Barbra Chambers