Sunday, March 7, 2010

The following is a synopsis of a journal article entitled Puget Sound Chautauqua Assembly that I am working on --

April 5, 1884, Tacoma, Washington Territory -- It was mid-day when Mary Glover Dilworth and her two young daughters boarded the steamboat Zephyr for the trip to Vashon Island. At 4 p.m.
they disembarked and stepped onto a float where her husband Rev. Richard B. Dilworth awaited their arrival. Dilworth, a schoolteacher and minister, had been hired by the local Presbyterian Church, and had preceded the family to the island.

Before moving to the northwest, Dilworth was active in the New York State Chautauqua, which began in 1874 in upstate New York as a summer camp with biblical studies and lectures for Sunday school teachers. However, the programs soon expanded to include secular education and entertainment. Courses in science, language, and music, and social, political, and historical lectures were added. Attendance grew to include not only Sunday school teachers but people from all walks of life. Many important social movements were inaugurated at Chatauqua -- one of which was the national Women's Christian Temperance Union. Popularity of the Chautauquan ideals and its programs rapidly spread across the United States and many regional Chautauqua's (known as Chautauqua Assemblies) were formed.

Dilworth's participation in the original Chautauqua had profoundly influenced him, and he dreamed of establishing a regional Chautauqua Assembly in the Pacific Northwest. It was an ambitious undertaking; but in less than a year and a half after his arrival on Vashon, the first northwest Chautauqua met on his property a Point Beals. In early August Chautauqua formally opened for its two weeks of activities. Participants arrived by steamer, for the day, or overnight -- some for the entire two weeks. They arrived with pots and pans, bedding, food, etc. and set up camp, erecting tents on the beach. Local newspapers hailed the spot as a "most pleasant summer resort".

Reverend Dilworth's Chautauqua was a success, but it would not be held at this location again. The next two years the Assembly met at Gardiner's Beach -- at a site that is now known as Arroyo Beach (south of Seattle's Alki Point). Then in August 1877, the Assembly incorporated and became the Puget Sound Chautauqua Assembly. Its goals were clear -- the Assembly wanted land for a permanent home. The Assembly selected another site on Vashon Island, south of the Dilworth property at Point Heyer. The site chosen, Tramp Harbor, was on the eastern shore of the Island and was described as "one of the prettiest little harbors on the Island." In November 1887, the Assembly began acquiring land, through both donations and purchases. The properties included over two miles of beautiful sandy beaches. As Chautauqua's popularity increased, the site grew to include a 1200-seat pavilion, a hotel, and dozens of cottages lining two miles of streets. And instead of tents and campsites, permanent dwellings, with beautiful landscaping, paths and viewpoints throughout the site created a resort atmosphere.

Note: Work on this project continues with the goal of a small history book about the story of Vashon Chautauqua, which will include the history of the Tramp Harbor site and the people who donated or sold property to the Assembly; history of some of the Chautauqua members; land records; photos of the site and participants; and bits about the steamboats that delivered passengers to the Island.


  1. BillieB. Polkadot Monkey found the Ancestors!

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