The Daily Record: The Model Chautauqua: Big plans for the city beautiful

The 1903 Chautauqua Assembly Herald greeted its Chautauqua summer audience by introducing the new President of the Board of Trustees of Chautauqua Institution, William Howard Hickman. Having received his Doctor of Divinity from DePauw University, Hickman joined the Northwest Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and “filled a number of the leading pulpits of that conference, building several of its best churches.”

Hickman’s ability as an administrator had been noticed by many, and though he had been offered the presidency of several colleges and positions in other businesses, he continued as a pastor, until succumbing to the earnest appeal of DePauw University, where he served as chancellor for six years.

“Assuming responsibility when it was in the direst straits, he leaves DePauw well on the way to permanent prosperity,” the Herald reported. Chautauqua Institution had “large plans to which the new president brings wide experience, large enthusiasm and tireless energy.”

Bishop John H. Vincent, Chautauqua co-founder and chancellor, had sent a cable from Horten, Norway, and dated July 2, 1903: “Norway greetings. Let Chautauqua mean Christian Culture, radical, Catholic, lifelong. – VINCENT.”

An editorial outlining the season quoted George Vincent, vice-chancellor, saying the purpose of coming to Chautauqua is to belong to an institution.

“If you have come to Chautauqua as a place from which you individually are to get a great deal, as a resort, if you have looked at it in an individualistic way, you have made a wrong beginning,” he said.

People are here to enrich a great heritage, Vincent said, but there is an obligation involved, “that we are not only to enjoy life, but we are to contribute something to it.”

Eleven new cottages had been built over the winter, and 30 had been substantially repaired. An advertisement ran throughout the summer, CUBAN HOMESTEADS/$100. Signed by M.M. Brown, the ad announced a “co-operative plan of getting a five or ten acres plantation at a nominal cost by purchasing together a large body of land and then dividing it among the individuals.” A winter resort would be established and an American colony settled, “which it is confidently believed will prove very profitable to non-residents or permanent home makers.”

The Chautauqua grounds were looking ship-shape, and leading specialists in landscape architecture and municipal improvement had conceived great plans for the future growth of the summer town. Among the specialists was Albert Kelsey of Philadelphia and past president of the Architectural League of America, and a director of the American League for Civic Improvement, and superintendent of the municipal improvement exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition.

Plans had been in the works to replace the Hall of Philosophy, and many people arriving in the summer of 1903 were surprised to see the old Hall still standing. At the end of 1902, during a visit, Bishop Vincent proposed rebuilding the Hall. The proposal was generally approved and in the rush and wonder “several thousand dollars was subscribed during the summer and it was quickly demonstrated that the funds for the completion of the building could readily be secured,” the Herald reported.

In the midst of enthusiasm, experts had been consulted concerning the Hall of Philosophy to determine the exact location and size of the proposed new building.

“In studying this one problem, they soon learned that to give the proper treatment to this one building, the whole of Chautauqua would need to be brought under one comprehensive plan,” the Herald reported.

Chautauqua, having begun as a meeting place and Sunday School assembly, had “outgrown plans of the founders and had developed into an educational institution of large proportions.” Subdivisions had been added, each with its distinctive plan, and each addition to the original was made to fit the circumstances of the time; “Thus the plan taken as a whole was confusing.”

After enlisting help from Warren H. Manning, a landscape architect from Boston, and J. Massey Rhind, a sculptor from New York City, Kelsey designed and proposed “The Model Chautauqua.” With slight variation between them, Kelsey’s written plan appears twice in the 1903 Assembly Herald, once on July 3 and once on July 18. The Herald called the plan “prophetic.”

Kelsey’s proposal responded to and furthered the evolution of Chautauqua from “a summer camp-meeting site, changed into a permanent community,” one that “annually adapts itself to the needs of a large summer city.” There had never been such conscious appreciation of “or regard for the picture value of the place as a whole, which is the essence of the modern civic improvement creed,” the paper reported.

As massive as the project appeared, it would proceed incrementally, the design subject to readjustment and regrouping and new building that could happen over a course of years — although one thing was certain: “the laying of the corner-stone of the new Hall of Philosophy during the season this summer.”

Kelsey’s vision divided the grounds into centers representing different departments of the Institution, “the intellectual quarter being adjacent to Vincent Square, the Assembly Green and the Round Table, while the athletic quarter adjoins the lake, thereby providing aquatic sports.”

In another quarter would be the Arts and Crafts Village, the College Department in another. The residential district alone would be left to scatter throughout the entire property.

There would be a new Amphitheater that would seat 7,000 people, and it would be situated adjacent to an administration building and an arcade building “which will provide for the markets and other shops, with offices for professional men above.”

A new hotel would provide many more rooms with better views of the lake than did the Athenaeum, “While a diagonal avenue leads directly from this court to Vincent Square, giving the guests a view of the great amphitheater as a focal point in the distance. In fact, the dome of the Amphitheater is the center or focal point of the entire Institution,” Kelsey wrote.

While grand and prophetic, a monument of the City Beautiful Movement of the time, the plan never came to be. In Three Taps of the Gavel: Pledge to the Future, Alfreda Irwin, former Chautauqua archivist and historian, wrote that the plan “proved to be too grand for the money at hand, especially as prices kept rising while construction was delayed.”

In his book Hidden Treasure: The Chautauqua Commission of Buffalo’s E.B. Green, Ed Evans called Albert Kelsey “The Two Million Dollar Man,” referring to the price estimated to bring the Model Chautauqua into reality — an amount in year 2005 money Evans figured to be (factoring in inflation adjustment of 1.035 percent over 100 years) equivalent to $40 million.