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Devils Lake Chautauqua


Devils Lake became host of North Dakota’s official Chautauqua gathering in the summer of 1893. Yearly thereafter, the Chautauqua hosted famous lecturers, singers, politicians and preachers. North Dakotans enjoyed watching stage productions and listening to dramatic readings and interpretations of plays; they applauded popular speakers expounding on social issues of the day.

All of this was held outdoors at the Devils Lake Chautauqua grounds – 160 acres of natural woodlands blessed with “high elevations” that offered visitors a “splendid view” of the lake.

The local Chautauqua Association built up the property, putting in picturesque roads and pathways; and building a hotel and auditorium. The people of Devils Lake put their money and efforts into creating a baseball field, tennis and croquet courts, and a bicycle track, all for the benefit of their Chautauqua guests.

And the people came in great numbers for the annual Chautauqua, which began about July 1st and continued for about 15 days. During the Chautauqua, visitors enjoyed camping and swimming at the beachfront as part of the “rest, instruction and recreation during the hot summer days.”

Because the Chautauqua grounds at Rock Island were five miles from the city of Devils Lake, the association built the Chautauqua Railway to transport visitors there. The short-line electric railway became known as the “Chautauqua Airline” because of its airy, open-sided cars. A round-trip ticket cost 25 cents.

The Chautauqua flourished for decades after its founding in 1893, but, on this date in 1920, the Grand Forks Herald announced that the Chautauqua Association had sold its property to the City of Devils Lake. From that time onward, the local park board set out to improve the streets, install new streetlights, and provide a modern water supply and sewer system – in order to make an already beautiful park even better than before.

The Chautauqua grounds became known as Lakewood Park, and a residential area by the same name became established there.

The annual Chautauqua at Devils Lake, began in 1893, grew to be the third-largest in the U.S. by 1911. It lasted more than 35 years, into the ‘20s, when the advent of movies and automobiles brought its demise.

But while it lasted, the Chautauqua at Devils Lake brought musicians, lecturers, and entertainers to enlighten and enliven the lives of thousands of North Dakotans.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, history department, MSU Moorhead.


“Chautauqua Grounds At Devils Lake Sold To City Park Board,” Grand Forks Herald, March 19, 1920, p. 3.

State Historical Society of North Dakota, The WPA Guide to 1930s North Dakota (Bismarck: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1990), p. 264-265.

“Chautauqua Assembly Notes,” Grand Forks Herald, July 13, 1902, p. 1.

Louise Oleson, “Bergstrom Creates Murals for Chamber,” Devils Lake Chamber of Commerce website, www.anne-martisbergstrom.com/chamber.htm, accessed on February 9, 2013.

C.M. Hartwick, “The Legend of Minnewaukan,” The Record, vol. 1, no. 3, July 1895, p. 15.

“Devils Lake Chautauqua: North Dakota’s Beautiful Summer Resort,” The Record, vol. 2, no. 11, May 1897, p. 8.

“Lake Minnewaukan,” Grand Forks Weekly Plaindealer, July 6, 1882, p. 3.

“Devils Lake, North Dakota,” The Chautauquan, vol. 33, 1901, p. 417, 420-421.

Zena Irma Trinka, North Dakota of Today (St. Paul: Louis F. Dow Company, 1920), p. 73, 110.