In 1892, a group of Methodists at a camp meeting in Central Point agreed to begin a Chautauqua program in Southern Oregon. Their goal was to hold their first event in July of the following year.
They relocated in June 1893 to Roper Grove in Ashland and — in three weeks’ time — issued bonds, purchased land and built a 1,000-person-capacity structure. They held their first event on July 5, in a beehive-shaped building with no center support pillars, 80 feet in diameter, 40 feet high, with canvas windows and electric lighting.
Ashland community support included funding from a Boston friend of T.L. Bolton, a local druggist. The Chautauqua group also borrowed money that was paid back by 1903.
The Rev. J.S. Smith was the first president of the Southern Oregon Chautauqua Association. G.F. Billings became president in 1894 and held the post for 22 years. His son Homer remembered that Billings strove for quality programs and never lost sight of Chautauqua’s spiritual beginnings.
Every year included Bible Study. Homer said Billings did it “for the sake of the young people.”
Source: Billings, Homer. History of the Southern Oregon Chautauqua, Southern Oregon Historical Society Manuscript MS1333. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.