Chautauqua returns to Western Maryland this summer with The Victorian Chautauqua in historic Mountain Lake Park, the home of Maryland’s original 1800s Chautauqua resort community.
Long before Deep Creek Lake became the focus of tourism in Garrett County in 1925, the area was well known among urban dwellers as a place to escape the summer heat. Mountain Lake Park and neighboring Deer Park and Oakland were the sites of sumptuous grand hotels, boarding homes, and summer cottages with storied histories.
In 1881, the founders, made up of Methodist ministers and businessmen, established Mountain Lake Park to provide opportunities for religious and literary instruction, complemented with healthful recreation. Its location along the B&O Railroad made the town ideally accessible from a variety of areas.
In 1882 the first and impressive structure called The Assembly Hall was erected and is still standing today. This was followed by the construction of privately owned cottages, many of which were built by the founders. That same year was when the “Sunday School Assembly” was first held. Later notably known as The Mountain Chautauqua, the summer programming was fashioned after the hugely popular and original Chautauqua held in New York.
More summer cottages were built (many of which still stand today), and the area’s popularity grew along with its variety of summer programs. So much so that in 1900, an enormous, open-air structure, known as the Bashford Amphitheatre, was built to seat up to 5,000 people.
More hotels and boarding houses were built during the early part of the 1900s, and Mountain Lake Park continued to grow in stature and size until the Great Depression, two World Wars, and personal transportation by automobile took their toll. The town was eventually incorporated in 1931 and to this day remains the largest municipality in Garrett County.
Although the grand hotels gradually fell into ruin, and the Bashford Amphitheatre was razed due to a leaky roof, 61 Victorian-era structures remain in the town as tributes to the glory years from the past.
In 1994, Chautauqua programs were reprised in the state to the credit of Maryland Humanities. Garrett Lakes Arts Festival (GLAF) played host to the annual touring program that was held at what was then known as Garrett Community College. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the modern-day Chautauqua in Garrett County, GLAF in coordination with Maryland Humanities, selected Mountain Lake Park as the perfect venue, in large part because it began there nearly 140 years earlier. The three-day festival featured portrayals of historical personalities, lecturers, musical entertainment, events for children, and even historic house tours guided by hosts in period costumes.
In 2020 Maryland Humanities decided to provide Chautauqua programming as a completely virtual experience. Following that year’s presentations, they discontinued future Chautauqua programming in Maryland.
The rousing success of the 2019 event inspired the formation of an annual event with a new name – The Victorian Chautauqua. As Covid-19 unraveled many social events in 2020, the previously planned festival in Mountain Lake Park was moved to 2021. Organizers are moving forward while accommodating the current state of health guidelines, and they promise the event will be better than ever.
The 2021 Victorian Chautauqua will be held on July 10 & 11. With the completion of the new Leo Martin Memorial Park, the two-day event will have an expanded footprint with ample space for three large performance tents and vendors spaces, as well as seating for a pop-up food court. There is no admission charge for any of the performances.
Chautauqua is well-known for its portrayal of historical figures and those featured this year will include Mark Twain, President Grover Cleveland (who honeymooned in Deer Park), and powerful women like the Unsinkable Molly Brown, suffragist Alice Paul, and Margaret Brent, the first American woman who demanded to vote. There will be historical lectures about Garrett County’s place in the Civil War and the importance of the B&O Railroad. Musical performances will include a Community Hymn Sing, a Jazz Guitarist, and a local favorite musical group, Buffalo Run.
Although children will enjoy much of the adult programming, Kid-Tauqua offers several events tailored especially to them. Events include a camp-fire sing-along, puppets and play, a fire-dancer, a presentation by the Garrett County Robotics Team, and much more.
Visitors can enjoy their time in Mountain Lake Park by riding around the town in the newly-acquired vintage-style town trolley or by walking along the charming, tree-lined streets. Special tickets are available to take outdoor historical home tours led by hosts in period attire. There will also be up to a dozen original Model Ts on display throughout the town.
In keeping with the Chautauqua tradition of learning, July 2021 will mark the first year for The Victorian Chautauqua Writers Workshops, this five-day series scheduled for July 12 through 16.
Four different workshops will be guided by experienced instructors/authors, and genres of writing will include one-act plays, storytelling, creative writing, personal essay, memoir, and more.
These small-group workshops will be divided into four different age groups that include grades 3-8, 9-12, teen-adult, and adult. Three of the workshops will be held in Oakland locations including Ruth Enlow Library, Our Town Theatre, and other town spaces. A fourth class will be held in historic Mountain Lake Park at the Town Hall.
Attendees will have the chance to benefit from working in small group settings and will enjoy the benefits of one-on-one help from instructors.
On the last day of the workshops, participants will have the opportunity to publicly share excerpts from their written projects in a culminating event.
Registration is now open. Visit vc-mlp.com/workshops for more information about each of the workshops and to register online. Space is limited, so early registration is advised.
The workshops are held in cooperation with Ruth Enlow Library, Garrett County Historical Society, Our Town Theater, The Sincell Family, and the Town of Mountain Lake Park.
The website lists the complete Schedule of Events for both Victorian Chautauqua and Kid-Taqua as well as a list of artisans, vendors, and musical performers. The site also features a series of documentaries, compiled by Mountain Lake Park resident and well-known artist Mark Stutzman about the history of Mountain Lake Park and Chautauqua. This incredibly informative and entertaining five-part series is a must-see for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating, historic town.
All activities will be compliant with any CDC guidelines that are in place at that time. In the event of severe weather, the historic Assembly Hall next door provides an indoor space to accommodate safe social distancing.
The Victorian Chautauqua is funded in part by Mountain Maryland Gateway To the West, Maryland Heritage Area and Maryland Heritage Area Authority, The Town of Mountain Lake Park, and Aaron’s.