Christ salvation

Salvation Army, Chautauquas once met at Lake Bluff

For the past few years, the most likely disturber of the peace on a balmy day in Lake Bluff has been a rehearsal of its Precision Power Mower Drill Team, a crowd pleaser at North Shore parades.

But many summers ago, the culprit was One-Armed Murphy, who woke everyone within earshot to his pounding on a bass drum.

“All is not serene at the resort town of Lake Bluff,” reported the Tribune on July 29, 1894. “There is a certain feeling between the boarders of the Irving Hotel and the soldiers of the Salvation Army, who have been there at camp since last week.”

Cultural cross-currents – similar to the warm and cold fronts TV weather forecasters refer to – had collided over a hamlet on the shore of Lake Michigan, 35 miles north of Chicago.

The result was a unique summer colony on the North Shore that for decades provided Chicagoans with a bucolic refuge from the summer heat while exercising their minds.

One of the winds that shook Lake Bluff was a British revival movement modeled on the military organization that preached to the urban downtrodden: the ranks of the “slum brigade”, as the Tribune dubbed the Salvation Army, were filled missionaries armed with Bibles and supported. by marching bands.

Its founder, General William Booth, spoke of his character during a visit to Chicago in 1872.

“The Salvation Army religion, he said, is not a canned religion, nor is it hidden under a bushel,” the Tribune reported. “It can be heard in the drums, it is proclaimed in the streets and alleys. It shows itself on street corners and wherever one can meet a man who needs to be relieved of the burden of sin and brought to a knowledge of Christ.

The other force affecting Lake Bluff was the gentler breeze of the Chautauqua movement: a loose network of adult summer camps sponsored by Methodist and traditional middle-class denominations.

The Lake Bluff Camp Meeting Association drew a more sober and God-fearing crowd than many who ventured north to get away from the city, the Tribune reported.

“Of many picnics of excursion from the city to the country, one cannot say much good,” reported the Tribune in 1876. on these occasions to unleash their passions.

The Tribune hailed the creation of the Lake Bluff summer camp as a sign of Central America’s growing maturity. “For some years now, the Orient has been building seaside resorts where the religious element should predominate,” notes the newspaper.

One was in Chautauqua, New York, where a resort town’s medley of lectures and musical offerings became the model for the Chautauqua movement.

The Lake Bluff version was founded by a group of Methodist ministers who purchased 100 acres of lakeside property in 1875. The following year, the Bluff Hotel opened. By the mid-1880s there were 30 hotels and boarding houses. Summer cottages appeared on lots that were selling for $250.

The Salvation Army held an annual encampment at Lake Bluff because, like other large organizations, it needed to bring its members together periodically to compare notes. His tents and the Summer Camp Tabernacle, a meeting hall that could hold 2,000 people, provided an unlikely compass of entertainment.

In 1894, the Salvation Army exhibited an example of its work – Jimmy, a reformed hoodlum from the South Side of Chicago.

“Every few minutes something bubbles up inside him and demands to speak out,” the Tribune reported. “On these occasions, Jimmy spasticly rises to his feet and roars, ‘Hully chee!’ “No, Hallelejulah! Then he sits down and seems calmer. Jimmy is one of the Salvation Army’s newest recruits.

That same season, summer campers at Lake Bluff’s Chautauqua event, titled the “Congress of Civics,” heard a lecture on: “The Relationship of Home to State,” while an article on “initiative and reform” was read to them by the president of the International Union of Cigar Makers.

Still, Chautauqua Methodist directors sometimes pushed the boundaries of decorum to titillate campers. In 1883 they offered a lecture titled “My Separation from the Mother Church,” by James A. O’Connor.

Ordained a priest in Ireland, O’Connor had served in a parish in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, but “began to realize that he was unable to promote the spiritual welfare of his parishioners”. So he quit his post, led a wandering life, and eventually became a Methodist minister.

“During numerous conversations with priests, he found several who held similar opinions to those he held, but could not make up their minds to abandon the Mother Church,” the Tribune reported.

Similarly, the editors of the Tribune were attentive to the gossip circulating in the tents of the Salvation Army. In 1892, the newspaper awarded the title of “war correspondent” to a journalist sent to verify a juicy rumor.

“A strange story had been circulating in Chicago – a story which told of the desertion of a member of the army and his subsequent recapture with thrilling bayonet dashes by two of the officers.”

An uncle of Lt. Mary Billings claimed his niece wanted to leave the Salvation Army because she was tired of babysitting her commanding officer’s children.

But Billings told the reporter, “I didn’t desert. I was not captured. I’m here of my own free will and it’s nobody’s business.

Her commanding officer agreed: “It’s not true that she was just a servant in my house,” Major Brewer told the reporter. “She’s a lieutenant in the army, but there are other ways to serve the Lord than speaking from a platform.”

Other summer camp news was obviously outrageous.

In July 1895, the Tribune reported that: “Last Sunday two town girls, names unknown, who the day before went out of town to spend the summer, put on their bathing suits and dived into old Lake Michigan under the eyes of all the deacons, deaconesses and preachers of the Bluff.

Dancing was also an issue, and a few years later ministers were planning a counterattack to change mores, as the Tribune reports:

“The Lake Bluff camp meeting clergy say they will make no effort to stop the dancing that many in camp are engaged in, but will do everything in their power to make the meetings more attractive than the dances.”

But the question was quickly moot. “The Lake Bluff campgrounds are to be cut up into building lots and sold,” reported the Tribune on March 28, 1900. “The tabernacle and other structures on the grounds will be torn down shortly.”

Economic reality had caught up with dancers and theologians. Camp attendance was down. Lake Bluff’s future was as a residential community. Yet summer memories are not vulnerable to wrecking crews, as Vera Flach noted in a 1965 Tribune essay.

Vintage Chicago Grandstand

Vintage Chicago Grandstand


The Vintage Tribune newsletter is a deep dive into the Chicago Tribune archives with photos and stories about the people, places and events that shape the city’s past, present and future.

“When I was three, my grandfather Jervis Gaylor Evans built a five-bedroom cabin in Lake Bluff,” she wrote. “We took off as soon as Chicago schools closed for the summer.”

On a sentimental trip decades later, she saw that a lot had changed. But she recalled her grandfather, a Methodist minister, writing of the Tabernacle: “A great current of spiritual power will flow to the furthest reaches of the nation.”

She sat down on the cliff. An autumn light played there.

“I listened to the hypnotic sound of water that lulled me on those summer nights so long ago. To me, Lake Bluff is still the same.

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