Mountain Lake Park planning Victorian Chautauqua

The audience participates during Maryland Humanities and Garrett Lakes Arts Festival’s Chautauqua celebration last year in Mountain Lake Park.

MOUNTAIN LAKE PARK — Mountain Lake Park Mayor Don Sincell and other leaders of the Garrett County town have decided to hold a Victorian Chautauqua festival July 11 and 12 and make it an annual event.

“Grantsville has Grantsville Days, Friendsville has Friendsville Days and Oakland hosts the Grand Feature Parade for Autumn Glory,” said Sincell. “We have the largest residential population and we should be celebrating our heritage.”

Maryland Humanities and the Garrett Lakes Arts Festival held its annual Chautauqua in Mountain Lake Park over three days in 2019 following the Fourth of July. The event is traditionally held on the Garrett College campus, but to celebrate Maryland Humanities’ 25th anniversary, the planning committee chose to hold it in the state’s original Chautauqua location.

Maryland Humanities Chautauqua will return to the college campus in 2020 with its usual programming, while Mountain Lake Park will continue hosting its own celebration.

The 2019 event took place under a 40-by-80-foot tent pitched on the corner of Spruce and H streets in the historic district.

Sincell donned a period tuxedo and top hat throughout the weekend. “Mountain Lake Park was founded as a Chautauqua community so reviving programming of this nature in our town was a perfect fit.”

Mountain Lake Park was the first Chautauqua, established in Maryland in 1881 by a group of Methodist ministers and businessmen who saw the mountain resort as an appealing escape for people looking for cultural and spiritual renewal.

The resort was modeled after a resort town in southwestern New York, situated on Chautauqua Lake, and was the birthplace of this 19th century cultural and educational movement. Chautauqua settlements popped up all over the country to mimic the growing popularity that was playing out in New York. Maryland has the distinction of being the second Chautauqua in the nation, patterned after the original New York institution.

The celebration last summer included guest lecturers, musical performances, food vendors and historic home tours. Sincell, along with committee members who organized the 2019 event, realized they yearned for a signature, annual event for Mountain Lake Park, with the understanding the Maryland Humanities Chautauqua would be returning to McHenry in 2020.

To distinguish Mountain Lake Park’s event, the committee decided to rename the festival the Victorian Chautauqua, which celebrates and honors the town’s founding years in the late 1800s.

The committee for the 2020 Victorian Chautauqua first met to determine the logistics of taking on an event independent of the previous supporting partners. Members concluded that a Chautauqua could continue on with financial assistance from the town, grant funding, sponsorships and private donations. Their ultimate goal is to have it become self-sustaining within five years.

“Funding will obviously be an important aspect to launch the Victorian Chautauqua,” said Bob Spear, committee chair. “After reviewing the 2019 budget, and tweaking our plans for 2020, we’re confident we can put together an exciting and full event.”

Lori Youse, who sits on the program committee with Mary Helen Spear, helped to assemble a list of potential presenters for the 2020 event.

“I volunteered at the 2019 event so it wasn’t too difficult to come up with some ideas of what we could do the next time,” said Youse. “I had to pare down my original wish-list to fit all the programs within the available time in the schedule.”

Although they are still in the planning stages, the committee is asking for volunteers who would like to participate. They will also be seeking additional event sponsors with which to partner in raising awareness and to help fund the event.

“Mountain Lake Park has a lot of proud businesses and residents who would enjoy getting behind the Victorian Chautauqua,” Sincell said. “Some can lend financial support and others through volunteering their time. I’m really looking forward to showcasing our town and its rich history in all its glory.”

Anyone wishing to participate or lending financial support can email Two fundraisers are already scheduled and can be found on the VC Market page of the website.

The website has a full list of programming and history around the event. Visitors can sign up to receive email updates and subscribe to the event blog.

Information will also be shared on the Mountain Lake Park Facebook page and the Victorian Chautauqua can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.

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