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Chautauqua

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The Auditorium and its predecessor Harney’s Orpheum were the heart of formal culture in 19th and early 20th century Agincourt. More casual, daytime and summer entertainment, however, was most like staged at the Chautauqua pavilion at the Fennimore County Fairgrounds on the Muskrat’s west bank (just opposite what would become Northwest Iowa Normal in 1919).

Chautauqua takes its name from a village in upstate New York where a summer institute was begun shortly after the Civil War. Intended as both education and wholesome entertainment in a resort setting, it hosted a wide range of music and lectures. Jenny Lind the “Swedish Nightingale” sang there and audiences also heard William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech. Revivalists and religious exhorters were frequent. Popularity of the New York original led to a wave of Chautuaqua-building across America. And their network became a circuit for entertainers, much like its less noble vaudeville counterpart. Agincourt’s pavilion was built some time in the late 1880s on land leased from the County Fair Association.

The Chautauqua pavilion as a building type was everywhere but especially throughout the Midwest “Methodist Belt.” A rectangle with radial or polygonal ends, today a large version might serve as a velodrome. Folding or overhead doors allowed summer breezes to cross-ventilate the building, and afford good sight lines to patrons seated on the verge.

PS: Here are two additional versions of the type:

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PS [03FEB2017]: And yet one more, this time actually in Iowa:

iastormlakechat


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