Fremont County, Iowa

Chautauqua

by Evelyn Birkby


View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of November 16, 2009

Recently, the View from the Attic described Chautauqua and its importance in the early history of the County. Fremont County is fortune enough to still have an original Chautauqua pavilion that has been preserved by the citizens of Riverton.

The town of Riverton was laid out in 1876 by A. B. Smith on land purchased from early settler brothers Coleman and Isaac Smith. One of the earliest building they erected was the Chautauqua pavilion that still stands on its site in the City Park. It was rushed to completion in the 1896 so that a presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, could speak there. This became the only permanent building in the county used for the great Chautauqua programs that swept the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

William Jennings Bryan's motto was to "Make a clean sweep of Washington," so ladies from the town swept the road in front of the candidate as he rode into town and up to the Chautauqua building on the hill.

Incidentally, Bryan lost to William McKinley in that election.

Chautauqua shows were presented into the building as late as the 1920s. Since then the building has become popular for family reunions, church potlucks, church services, school graduations, May Day festivities presented by the school children, Memorial Day services, weddings and even a few funerals.

Riverton resident have put a great deal of effort into preserving the pavilion. They restored the building to its original condition, replacing newer shingles with the same kind of cedar shingles that had been first used. The village flagpole that was the center of the building still stands. Cedar posts were used whenever one needed to be replaced. Repairs were done with old boards that reflect the time the original building was erected. This careful restoration made it possible for the city to get their building on the National Historic Registry. So it is that one of the really remarkable buildings still standing and in use in the county is the Riverton Chautauqua pavilion on the hill in southwest Riverton. A visitor can stand in the shade of the building and look out over the East Nishnabotna River bottom toward the Loess hills lifting to the west. It is a breathtaking view. Nearby is the Riverton Cemetery with the graves of the founders of the town and people who have helped in many ways to see that Riverton is alive and well.

It is also the location of their flag display on special days during the year. On events such as Armistice Day and Memorial Day, the townsfolk bring out those special flags which memorialize the men of the area who have given so much to their county and their home.

(Part of this Attic was taken from the "Thumbprints in Time" history of Ferment County, This book is still available for purchases from the Fremont County Historical Museum Research Center. Thanks, also, to Roger Booker for his additional information about Riverton ant the Chautauqua building.)


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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau