PIQUA — The Piqua Chautauqua was the city’s longest-running community festival. The Piqua-Community Chautauqua Association held its first festival at Fountain Park from Aug. 16 until Aug. 25, 1912. The festival grew in popularity and after World War I, a permanent pavilion was built in the park (today known as the Hance Pavilion).
Local and imported talent competed for the attention of Chautauqua goers. Local talent included the Piqua Drama League, the Piqua Band under the direction of Phil Gates, and the Elks Glee Club. International presentations were represented by groups such as the Star Russian Company (a vocal group from the Soviet Union), the Ramos Mexican Orchestra and the Gypsy Troubadours. Speakers were a main draw for Chautauqua and included Billy Sunday, Lowell Thomas, and numerous senators, governors, and other public figures.
Camping was allowed in the park, but a 1917 program stated that “all tent holders will furnish their own electric light bulbs.” The Piqua Electric Railway designated one of their street cars as the “Chautauqua Express” in the 1920’s just to handle the crowds going to and from the park.
The Association held its last Chautauqua in 1931. The American Legion Drum Corps took over for an additional two years, but could not make a go of the festival during the Depression. A small revival of Chautauqua was organized in 1975 and 1976 by Don Smith on the Piqua public square.
In 2003, one of the state organized Chautauqua Festivals hosted by the Ohio Humanities Council was held out at the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency. Piqua’s Bicentennial Celebration held several Chautauqua-like presentations with great success.
This year, on Sept. 19, 20 and 21, Piqua Chautauqua returns home to Hance Pavilion with the theme “100 Years after WWI.” This event has been made possible by generous grants from the Neils A. and Ruth Lundgard Foundation, Miami County Foundation, the Piqua Community Foundation and the Hartzell Norris Charitable Trust.
For more information, please contact Mainstreet Piqua at (937) 773-9355.