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Chautauqua Park
(Exchange Park)


Conger Street and Leonard Avenue

The Chautauqua movement of the late 19th century was an attempt to bring popular culture and education to every corner of the country. The movement found fertile ground in Waterloo at what is now known as Chautauqua (or Exchange) Park.

A Chautauqua Association was organized by a group of Waterloo businessmen who were interested in developing the Sans Souci area as a summer resort. In 1891 they purchased 40 acres of land at this site for the building of cottages. The first Chautauqua program was held here the following year. It lasted 10 days and was housed in a large tent.

The initial success of the program led to construction of a 2,000-seat amphitheater in 1893. By 1896 the Waterloo Chautauqua was so popular that the Association was able to afford such speakers as William Jennings Bryan.

The amphitheater was replaced by a coliseum in 1906 at a cost of $12,500. The Sans Souci Hotel was built nearby two years later, and the trolley line was extended to Chautauqua Park. (Townspeople could also make the trip to the Park on a steam-driven paddle wheel boat that operated on the Cedar River.)

This was the high point of the Chautaqua in Waterloo. World War I, and a 1919 fire that destroyed the coliseum, brought an end to this early venture in adult education.

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Last updated Wednesday, June 23, 2004

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