The 1899 Chautauqua season lasted 60 days, the most since the Assembly’s beginning in 1874. It was the end of the 19th century. In an article titled “The New Chautauqua” John Heyl Vincent, Chautauqua co-founder, reflected on the first Assembly.
“The experiment was a marked success,” he wrote. “The future was never so brilliant as today.”
Changes were in process. The Chautauqua Assembly Herald possessed a more streamlined look, a smaller page and print. William S. Bailey was the newspaper’s new editor. George E. Vincent, son of John, of the University of Chicago, had been elected to be the Principle of Instruction.
The general offices of the Chautauqua Assembly had been established in Cleveland, as had been the case later for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. An article in the opening issue of the 1899 Herald titled “The Reorganization of Chautauqua” indicated that “one of the first steps in the reorganization was to secure the Chautauqua publishing interests which were also centralized at the Cleveland general offices under the Bureau of Publication.”
An endowment fund had been started and the sum of $50,000 had been subscribed for such purpose.
“This fund is to be very largely increased, thus securing the permanency of Chautauqua as an educational institution,” the Herald reported.
But one change had been unsettling, although not entirely out of place or time. Chautauqua announced its new acting president of the board of trustees, the Honorable Clem Studebaker, who replaced the only president the Chautauqua Assembly had known, Lewis Miller.
In his first address to Chautauqua in the Assembly Herald Studebaker wrote: “In assuming for the time being the presidency of Chautauqua Assembly as the successor of our lamented friend and brother, Lewis Miller, I am deeply impressed with the weighty responsibility of the position. I can scarcely hope to fill the place as acceptably or as efficiently as did Mr. Miller.”
Miller had died on Feb. 17, 1899. An obituary in the February 1899 Chautauquan said that Miller was born in Greentown, Ohio, in 1829.
“He learned the plasterer’s trade, and later opened a machine shop in Canton, Ohio,” the obituary read.
He invented and improved agricultural machinery, specifically the Buckeye Mower and Reaper, the design of which mounted the cutting blade in front of the driver and to the side of the horses, thus increasing the safety for both the animals and the driver.
Not only did Miller consider the bodily safety of horses and men, he was interested in the improvement and salvation of minds and souls. The Aug. 2 issue of the Assembly Herald reported on the memorial service for late great Chautauquan.
“Sad, yet impressive, was the memorial service held in the Amphitheater at 11 o’clock this morning, for President Lewis Miller, who laid down the burden of life last year to go to his reward on high,” the Herald reported.
The addresses were of high order and the music was beautiful.
Vincent read the Scripture lesson and spoke of the life that is to come.
“This place was doubly sacred, he said, to us today, while memory comes to mourn over the fact of human sorrow,” he said.
Studebaker, the acting president, noted that Miller was an inventor, and “at Chautauqua his aim was to make life better for somebody else. You today see the fruits of his labor here. What better memorial could be raised to any man than Chautauqua?”
Jesse L. Hurlbut spoke about Miller’s Sunday school work. Hurlbut said that people here for the first time would not notice anything missing, “but we old Chautauquans have a feeling that a genial presence is missing, a kind clasp of the hand, a mind ready for any emergency, pleasant and thoughtful.”
Miller had started a Sunday school in Akron that enjoyed monumental success, combing education in scripture with education in all matters of history and science, or, as Hurlbut said, “probably it was the first really graded Sunday-school with a normal department.”
A quartet sang “Nearer My God to Thee.” H. H. Moore said that “a man who has fought the good fight, who has finished his course may surely say, ‘Oh, Death, where is thy sting? Oh, Grave, where is thy victory?’ ”
Wilson Day, acting general manager of Chautauqua, spoke about Miller as a businessman and citizen. Miller treated his employees with respect. “Lead Kindly Light” was sung by the quartet, and J.M. Buckley made the closing address.
“I met Lewis Miller first as a co-delegate to a great assembly, and there were all sorts of dissensions, but during the whole four weeks his influence was most beneficent,” Buckley said.
From this experience, Buckley continued to love and interpret Miller at Chautauqua.
“I now remember him, not as an old man, but as he was thirty years ago, a large, stalwart man,” Buckley said. “Our friend is dead, but Chautauqua is alive.”