Mikki Schwarzkopf will share the colorful stories of the traveling “Chautauqua” shows 100 years ago

JEFFERSON, Iowa, May 9, 2022 — A century ago the hottest ticket for entertainment in Greene County – or sometimes for religious or educational programs — was for the “Chautauquas,” which often would pack 2,500 people into a huge tent set up every August at what today is known as Chautauqua Park here.

Mikki Schwarzkopf

Mikki Schwarzkopf, one of the most persistent researchers for the Greene County Historical Society, will present a program at 2 p.m. this Sunday, May 15, at the museum in Jefferson on nearly two years of occasional research she’s done into Chautauquas.

Between 1901 and about 1930, the Jefferson Chautauqua Association brought such nationally prominent speakers here as evangelist & former Major League Baseball pitcher Billy Sunday; Congressman & attorney William Jennings Bryan; alcohol abolitionist Carrie Nation, and farm visionary Henry Wallace. There were dozens of others who became stars on the circuit.

“These programs were so popular because they started up in a time when people were really isolated,” Schwarzkopf said. “Remember, the only access most people had to the outside world back then was the occasional newspaper.  No TV, at first no radios.  These speakers would come in and give our people kind of a connection to what was happening” nationally and around the world.

The Jefferson Chautauqua Association was formed in 1905, and shares of stock were sold to help the organization purchase a tent and chairs, and schedule and pay the traveling speakers.

“Originally the programs were more religious and informative,” she said. “They turned more toward entertainment as time went on – and politics in the later years.”

In the 1930s, with the proliferation of radios and cars, the Chautauqua programs began to fade.

“Scheduling them was always tricky,” Schwarzkopf said. “You had to have them at a time when farmers wouldn’t all be in the field, and not up against the county or state fairs. So here in Jefferson, they seemed to have more of the Chautauqua programs for a week in early August.”

Admission and refreshments for her 2 p.m. Sunday program are free.

Learning how to use the archives of local history & records created and maintained by our six public libraries

CHURDAN, Iowa, May 1, 2022 — When the Greene County Historical Society gathers this Friday, May 6, at the Churdan Public Library in Churdan, members and guests will learn about “Mining Digital Treasures from the Archives.”

Created in 2012 and growing impressively ever since, those “Greene County Archives” are available free online 24/7 and worldwide, from the website of the Jefferson Public Library. They are a collaboration by the county’s six libraries, the local newspapers, local government agencies and donors.

Jane Millard

“We receive usage statistics every month, and it’s always fun to look at how many users we’re getting from countries all over the world,” said Jane Millard, the Jefferson library director. “You always wonder, ‘Who are these people and how have they become interested in some part of our history in Greene County?’ ”

The largest volume of material in the archives are the digitized newspapers of the county – all of them.  The oldest archive on the site is the 1856 U.S. Census report on Greene County.

“We’ve built the archives in two phases, with lots of public support,” Millard said. “In fact, writing the grants and finding matching money for both phases has been the easiest fundraising I’ve ever done. That tells you how much public support there is for having archives that are as accessible as ours are. If you can do a Google search, you’ll easily be able to use our archives.”

She will lead the presentation on Friday, but it’s been developed with all the libarians in the Greene County Librarians Association.  Those include Millard, Shari Minnehan in Churdan, Diane Kafer in Grand Junction, Wendy Johnson in Scranton, Cara McCoy in Rippey and Kimberly Bohnet in Paton.

The Churdan library has special equipment that will allow the presenters to use the library website while projecting it on a large screen, so the audience can see and follow along when Millard shows how to access specific documents.

The event Friday will open with a lunch at the library at 12 noon, provided by the members of St. Columbkille Catholic Church. Cost of that is $10 and members should RSVP to their historical society community contacts.  Others are welcome for lunch, too, and should make a reservation with program director Margaret Hamilton at 515-386-4408.

The free program will begin at 12:45 p.m.

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    There have been three courthouses built where the Greene County Courthouse stands today.  Ground was broken on the current courthouse in November of 1915, the cornerstone was set in May 1916 and the new building was dedicated in October of 1917. The centennial celebration of the courthouse is already underway, with events being planned by the “Courthouse 100” committee, with support from the Greene County Historical Society.  You can learn more about the courthouse history and the celebration plans on the Facebook page “Courthouse 100: Greene County, Iowa.”

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