Students and friends alike have often asked me how I became interested in history. Was it a special teacher? A family friend? Perhaps a grandparent was a history buff and ignited this flame that basically rules my life these days.
Actually, it’s a combination of many things including family members sharing stories, old buildings on a family farm, books on the Civil War given to me as a child and hearing this man on local television discuss Atlanta’s rich history:
The man to the left is Franklin Garrett, the only official historian the city of Atlanta has known. Garrett spent 28 years as the historian of the Coca Cola Company and researched various aspects of Atlanta's history as well during that time.
His book, Atlanta and Its Environs is one of my most favorite go-to resources regarding the history of the metro area and Douglas County and Douglasville does have a mention here and there.
During the 1880s one of the largest events held in Douglas County and perhaps never equaled since happened to be the Piedmont Chautauqua. I’ve written about it before here.
Franklin Garrett included a section about the Chautauqua in his book mainly centering on Henry W. Grady, editor of the Constitution and cheerleader for the New South and Marion C. Kiser, Grady’s partner in the Chautauqua.
Mr. Garrett provides an interesting view of the Chautauqua as well as a humorous remembrance from the opening remarks of Mr. Kiser. Here's what he had to say:
During the summer of 1888, [Henry W. Grady] was engrossed in his plans for the Piedmont Chautauqua….
The institution of the Chautauqua had attained great popularity in the United States since 1874, when the first Chautauqua Institution was founded on the shores of Lake Chautauqua, New York, to promote the training of Sunday school teachers. Since then some 42 other Chautauquas had been organized in various parts of the country.
The Piedmont Chautauqua, patterned after the original, was largely the inspiration of Grady. In March, 1888, he called a meeting to explain the movement to a group of Atlantans.
A plan was evolved by asking 200 citizens to subscribe $100 each toward the undertaking, after which the Piedmont Chautauqua was incorporated, with Marion C. Kiser, wealthy wholesale shoe and dry goods merchant as president, and Grady as vice president.
The site selected for the new enterprise was the little resort town on the Georgia Pacific Railroad, then known as Salt Springs, though now and for many years past it has been called Lithia Springs. A spring-fed stream offered possibilities for an artificial lake and other attractions.
Salt Springs already had one resort hotel, advertised as “the most sumptuous summer hotel in the South,” and the promoters of the Chautauqua proposed to erect two smaller hotels. In addition, plans called for a classroom building, a restaurant accommodating one thousand persons, and a tabernacle seating seven thousand.
Yes….you read that right. Seven thousand people.
Lots for summer cottages were staked out and offered for sale, space was provided for various outdoor sports, and the stream was dammed to provide boating and swimming facilities.
The Georgia Pacific promised to run special trains, making the 21-mile run from Atlanta to the grounds, three miles west of Austell, in 35 minutes.
The Chautauqua announced that it would have instructors in Bible, English, foreign languages, the natural sciences, the fine arts, physical education, and ‘every chair of a first-class university.’ The entire curriculum cost $10. Any single department was open for a $5 fee.
Grady realized that the success of the Chautauqua hinged, not upon the relatively small number expected to register for classes, but upon the size of the crowds coming out for the special attractions at night and for Sunday sermons.
A number of celebrities were signed up for the program. Congressman William McKinley and Roger Q. Mills came down from Washington to give Georgians contrasting views on the tariff, then a particularly warm issue. Dr. Talmadge delivered his lecture on “The Bright Side of Things;” and Thomas Nelson Page gave a reading of his “Unc’ Edinburg’s Drowndin.’”
There were sermons, chalk talks and scientific demonstrations by lesser personalities. A “Hungarian orchestra” gave daily concerts, and several large bands appeared from time to time. Four leading manufacturers of fireworks produced striking displays in competition for the “Chautauqua championship” and a $1,000 prize.
July 4, 1888, was selected as the appropriate day upon which to open the Chautauqua grounds. The featured event was a barbeque and Chautauqua president, Marion C. Kiser was slated for an address of welcome. Successful businessman, sterling citizen and civic leader though he was, [Kiser] was no public speaker nor did he profess to be. Born and reared on a Fulton County (old Campbell) farm, he had had limited educational advantages. As a young man he had lived at Powder Springs, not far from Salt Springs, and had, in fact, begun his mercantile career there in a store owned by two older brothers, W.J. and M.P. Kiser [His Atlanta store was located at the corner of Pryor and Wall Streets].
Henry W. Grady, Jr., and his young friend and future [brother-in-law], Eugene R. Black, were ticket-takers upon the occasion of the Chautauqua opening. Both recalled an incident in connection with President Kiser’s address of welcome.
The speech had been written out in advance by Grady, but when Kiser rose he fumbled around in his pocket without being able to find the manuscript. Finally, he looked out upon the crowd and began hesitatingly by saying, “Right down thar is whar I used to hunt foxes.”
Not being able to think of any further extemporaneous remarks he turned to those closest to him and asked, “Whar’s Grady?”
The Constitution of the next morning reported that “President Kiser’s speech was a model of good sense and good humor, well and briefly expressed. It was just such a sensible talk as was to be expected from so sensible a man.”
The Chuatauqua’s largest crowd assembled on August 28 to hear the closing address by its impresario, Grady, on the subject of ‘Cranks, Croakers, and Creditors’. The “cranks” were identified as those who started the enterprise, the “croakers”, the fault-finders who predicted failure, and the “creditors” those whose patience and cooperation enabled the Chautauqua to weather a successful season.
The primary purpose of the Chautauqua was the diffusion of knowledge. Grady believed so firmly in this objective he personally advanced $5,000 to complete the buildings and $2,500 towards making up a deficit on the teacher’s salaries.
Certainly the idea for the Chautauqua in Atlanta was sound, though the directors erred in locating it so far from the city because some of the backers happened to own land there. In spite of this handicap, however, the Piedmont Chautauqua continued for many years to carry on the work Grady had started.
Garrett’s main source regarding his Piedmont Chautauqua section was Raymond Nixon’s biography of Grady titled Henry W. Grady: Spokesman of the New South.