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G.F. Billings Leads Chautauqua Association for 22 Years

In 1892, a group of Methodists at a camp meeting in Central Point agreed to begin a Chautauqua program in Southern Oregon. Their goal was to hold their first event in July of the following year.

They relocated in June 1893 to Roper Grove in Ashland and in three weeks’ time issued bonds, purchased land, and built a 1,000-person-capacity structure. They held their first event on July 5, in a beehive shaped building with no center support pillars, 80 feet in diameter, 40 feet high, with canvas windows and electric lighting.

Ashland community support included funding from a Boston friend of T. L. Bolton, a local druggist. The Chautauqua group also borrowed money that was paid back by 1903.

The Rev. J. S. Smith was the first president of the Southern Oregon Chautauqua Association.  G.F. Billings became president in 1894 and held the post for 22 years.  His son Homer remembered that Billings strove for quality programs and never lost sight of Chautauqua’s spiritual beginnings.

Every year included Bible Study.  Homer said Billings did it “for the sake of the young people.”

Source: Billings, Homer. History of the Southern Oregon Chautauqua, Southern Oregon Historical Society Manuscript MS1333

Pat Harper is the archivist for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, where she digitizes records, manages websites and learns more about regional history from the SOHS volunteers. After receiving her Master’s Degree in library science from the University of Illinois in 1980, Harper worked as a reference librarian, then as a library administrator. From 1994 to 2005, she was the Siskiyou County library director and lived in the country near Hornbrook, California.