REMINGTON — The first thing you need to know about the Fountain Park Chautauqua that runs July 13-28 is that it’s not a fair or a festival.
Then what is it?
“The best-kept secret in Jasper County,” said Linda Emerson, Chautauqua board member and unofficial historian.
The original purpose of a Chautauqua was to train Sunday School teachers, she said, but it quickly became popular as a celebration of the arts, which in this sense includes music, fine arts, unique lectures, history, nature talks and more.
“It’s an event you have to experience to understand,” Emerson said. And while the title “Chautauqua” seems weighty, it’s merely an Indian word meaning “bag tied around the middle” (seriously) — which reflects the shape of Lake Chautauqua in New York state, host site of the first Chautauqua.
Fountain Park is believed to be one of only three Chautauqua’s in America that have been continuously operating. The 1874 New York Chautauqua and the 1896 Big Top Chautauqua at Bayfield, Wis., are the other two.
Remington’s Chautauqua got its start in 1895 when local resident Robert Parks decided there should be one locally. The first Chautauqua guests used to stay in tents.
At Fountain Park, it’s a relaxed gathering of people who appreciate two weeks in their tiny cottages, tents, or at the old-fashioned Fountain Park Hotel with its homemade fixed-menu dining, no air conditioning, and shared bathrooms.
Much-loved traditions have developed at Fountain Park — such as bringing your state flag to hang off the hotel balcony — and long-time friendships are made, especially among those whose families have come back to their cottages every summer for decades. Others buy a season or weekend pass and drive in from the surrounding area, or day-trippers pay the $5 fee at the gate when programs — all free — interest them.
The Fountain Park experience is mostly open air, in the park or the open-sided 500-seat tabernacle, where music and entertainment programs are held — and the board doesn’t skimp on their variety.
Past programs have featured ballets, orchestras, the Purdue Glee Club, Big Bands and, one year, a singing blacksmith who wasn’t sure about the size of the flame, so he set up outside the tabernacle as the audience watched from within the open-sided building — just in case.
Past speakers have included William Jennings Bryan, Paul Harvey, and former U.S. Ag Secretary Earl Butz.
Emerson said Fountain Park always pays those who perform or speak, but during the Great Depression in the 1930s, things got a little tight.
“They had to work hard to keep it going, and they used local talent during that time," she said. "If you could sing, you were on the program.”
This year’s program includes (but is not limited to) a cake auction on opening day; a Beatles tribute band “Kaleidoscope Eyes;” a lecture by Chautauqua expert Gary Moore (who in a previous year lectured on outhouses); The Molter Brothers music; Stevens Puppets; Midnight Ghost Hunters lecture (on what they found in the hotel); “The Incredible Dinosaur Show;” “Geodes & Gemstones” lecture; “Damaged Goodz” rock and roll band; “Birds of Prey” lecture; the “Singing Contractors” gospel music; “Hogslop String Band;” the Scott Greeson Band and the Big Swing Band, both from Lafayette; and “Ukelaer Option” ukulele duo.
There are quilting, art classes and exhibits, and there is an art colony in the park where painters often spend the day.
Although not the focus of Chautauqua, there is a devotional aspect handed down through the years. Sunday School and church services are conducted on Sundays, and a daily songfest and devotions are led by James Blanchard at 2 p.m. in the tabernacle.
Emerson said it’s the love of Fountain Park and its traditions that keeps the doors open. She owns a cottage, just like both sets of her great-grandparents did. That affection is shared by their working board: President Scott Robertson, Vice President Joel Vanderwall, Treasurer Mikhail Kostikov, Secretary Barb Clark, and members Don Knochel, Emerson, Tim Guhl, Ross Williamson, Dana Pampel, Dick Stevens and Lindsey Polley.
Anyone interested in attending Chautauqua this summer can get program details at www.fountain-park.org; on Facebook at Fountain Park Chautauqua; or call 219-615-7221.
The park is at 6244 W. 1600 South, Remington.