Milton Press Gazette

March 6, 1952

Resident Recalls Days of Chautauqua Here


Every winter, when I first came to Florida, a Chautauqua was held in DeFuniak Springs in February and March. I think it was sponsored by the man who built DeFuniak Springs and the L and N Railroad. The program was composed of the very best talent in the country. The L and N ran excursion trains every Saturday. The round trip ticket from Pensacola to DeFuniak Springs was eighty-five cents, including the ticket into the theater, I think, as we did not pay to enter it. There were two sections of trains. The first from Pensacola was a through train and the second stopped at wayside stations to pick up those who were wanting to go.

The theater was built something like an amphitheater. It was near the shore of a like with the stage built on the side near the lake. We entered a door and walked down the aisle toward the stage to seats which were pl;ace in a semi-circle in the building. The program was at eleven a.m. After the program was over, we ate our lunch which we carried from home and then we were on our own till our train started on its return trip.

In 1897, my folks at home wrote me that Dr. Talmadge, a noted preacher and lecturer, was to be on the program on a certain Saturday and wanted me to go to hear him. I wanted Aunt Lou Deen to go with me but Uncle was afraid for us to go and said she could not go. I told him I would go alone, as my people wanted me to go. Then he let her go.

We took the train at Harp Station, I think before the sun had risen. Seth Jernigan, my cousin, got on the train at the same time. A large number of people got on the train at Milton, among them were many friends of Aunt Lou, who seemed so glad to see each other. They spent the time in pleasant conversation, which I enjoyed very much, as I was a stranger. Aunt Lou was a person who enjoyed living and made those around her enjoy it. I do no remember the program that day but I enjoyed it. Dr. Talmadge could not come. In our home town was the college from which I graduated. We were used to having such programs.

On our return trip, Lula Pryor, one of my pupils and her brother, Willie, a young teacher like myself, was in our party. We reached Harp Station after midnight and no one was to meet us. Putnam Jernigan got off the train with us. It was four miles to Uncle Charlie’s house. We were tired and Aunt Lou weighed over two hundred pounds. After we started, Aunt Lou and Seth kept us laughing till we were home before we realized it. Aunt Lou seldom left home.

Aunt Fannie Deen, Uncle Charlie’s sister, fussed so much about me taking Aunt Lou, that Aunt Lou asked me to take Aunt Fannie next Saturday, and she would let her niece, Annie Cooper (7 years old), and her nephew Floyd Cooper (11 years old). go with us. I had been wanting to take them with me as they had never seen anything like it and I do not think they had ever ridden on the train. It was a great treat to them. On the program that day, was a Glee Club from some Northern College, consisting of young men. One item on the program was a song, “I went to the Animal Fair.” A young man put on a skull cap, pulled his arms up in his sleeves and walked around the stage like a monkey. The children enjoyed it and so did I.

After the program we passed the time as on the other Saturdays till the train returned. We did not have to walk home that night as Uncle Charlie met us.

In 1899 I went with a party of young folks. We took the train at Mulat. The program was good and we spent the rest of the time as on previous Saturdays.
The last time I went was March 1, 1902, on my baby’s first birthday. My sister, Clara Deen from Texas, was with me. Mr. Crist was working at Pine Level near where Jay is now. After he got off from his work we drove to Uncle Charlie’s house. We took the train at Mulat Saturday morning and met with a party of friends and Mr. Crist’s people. On the program a lady was singing a solo in operatic music. When her voice reached the high note my baby raised his little hand and made a sound in a high note. I put my hand over his mouth. The people near us were looking at him smiling. We left Pine Level Friday in a buggy with a horse and arrived at Uncle Charlie’s late that night, and took the train early Saturday morning. That was my last trip to the Chautauquas. I really enjoyed the Chautauquas and the trips. The excursions continued several years longer. It was my first time to see people wearing summer clothes in the middle of winter. I think the excursions were strong factors in building up West Florida. At that time the land between Milton and DeFuniak Springs looked like barren land.

DeFuniak Springs was the center of Education in West Florida at that time. There was a State School for Teachers in DeFuniak Springs, the only one in West Florida.





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