Chautauqua Homecoming turns 25

TWENTY-FIVE and counting!

That will be the status of the Epworth Park Chautauqua Homecoming Days, which will reach the quarter-century mark next Saturday and Sunday.

Not only has the celebration grown in size, but it has been expanded in recent years and now is known as the Chautauqua Homecoming Days and Bethesda Festival.

Activities have been added or enlarged during its first 24 years, and there also are new features this year.

Jack O’Neil, president of the Epworth Park Cottage Owners Association, said the group hopes to get participation from individuals wearing vintage hats this year.

O’Neil also mentioned the addition of “Abraham Lincoln,” portrayed by John Cooper, who will stroll through the park and talk to visitors.

The actual Chautauquas, which began in 1890, drew such personages as President William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan, the “silver-tongued orator” who was unsuccessful three times in his bid for the presidency.

O’Neil indicated those planning the two days of activities are pleased with the variety of musical entertainment.

“One of the things we’re really excited about is how the fishing contest has taken off,” he said. “The Hazen Masonic Lodge here in Bethesda is really stepping up. Because of their efforts, large groups of kids are participating.”

The Masonic group is only one of the organizations sponsoring events during the celebration. Varied activities and food are included on the two-day schedule.

Vintage hats and the Tour of Cottages, planned Sunday, will serve as reminders of the Victorian era when the Chautauquas at Epworth Park drew crowds, many of them arriving on excursion trains.

The annual homecoming at the Bethesda park takes its name from the Chautauquas held for years at the park. A Chautauqua is an annual educational meeting, providing public lectures, concerts, Bible classes and dramatic performances. It takes its name from the system of education originating at Lake Chautauqua, N.Y.

On the schedule for this year’s celebration are:


8 a.m. – White elephant sale opens.

8 a.m. – Concession stand at the park entrance opens for breakfast with coffee, doughnuts and sausage gravy with biscuits.

8 a.m. – Chautauqua Days 5K Run/Walk. Registration is from 6:30-7:45 a.m. in the park shelter area at the corner of Lake and Virginia Streets.

9 a.m. – Registration starts for a “Footprints in the Park” Fun Walk for all ages and a Health Fair; both events at the Epworth Center.

9 a.m. – Epworth Park memorabilia and baked goods available at the bake sale.

9 a.m. – Craft show with more than 40 crafters, vendors and antique dealers.

9 a.m. – The “Spirit of America” miniature train will provide rides around the park.

10:15 a.m. – Bicycle decorating contest for ages 13 and under at the four-way stop, North Main Streeet. Prizes will be awarded.

11 a.m. – Festival parade – Line-up to begin at 10 a.m. at the four-way stop, North Main Street. Awards will be presented.

After the parade – Chicken barbecue dinners available at the Methodist Church and food also available at the park concession stand, which features chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, coney dogs, kraut dogs or sloppy joes along with homemade potato salad and baked beans as well as root beer floats, ice cream treats or an apple dumplings.

11:30 a.m. – Youths’ and children’s activities begin at Epworth Center.

Noon – Registration begins for the children’s fishing contest for ages 2-14 at the lake.

Noon to 4 p.m. – Meet and greet “Abraham Lincoln” as he strolls along the Avenue.

1 p.m. – Brat sandwiches available at the auditorium.

2 p.m. – Entertainment will begin, rain or shine, in the open-air-covered auditorium with guitarist Roger Hoard.

3 p.m. – Children’s games for ages 10 and under will begin at the gazebo.

4 p.m. – “President Abraham Lincoln” (as portrayed by John Cooper) will recite the Gettysburg Address in the auditorium.

7 p.m. – Almost Famous will entertain in the auditorium. Award-winning banjo artist Stephen Moore, who is from Bethesda, heads this group.


10:45 a.m. – Morning worship service in the auditorium with the Pastor Tom Detling from the Bethesda United Methodist Church as speaker.

11:30 a.m. – Spaghetti dinner as well as sandwiches and other food items at the park concession stand.

Noon – White elephant sale opens.

Noon – Antiques under the Oaks and craft sales continue.

Noon – “Spirit of America” train rides begin.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Registration for the Bethesda Auto Show, sponsored by the Bethesda-Belmont-Morristown Rotary Club, with the auto show planned from noon to 4 p.m. There is a $7 registration fee and dash plaques will be awarded to the first 50 entries. Category winners will be given awards. Disc jockey Frank Prebec will provide oldies music. Food and beverages will be available plus door prizes as well as gas card and 50/50 fund-raisers.

Noon – Chicken and rib dinners, sponsored by the Bethesda Festival Committee.

1-4 p.m. – Xtreme Entertainment will have inflatable games and Slip & Slide water games (weather permitting).

(The car show, chicken and rib dinners and inflatable game events all take place on the west side of Epworth Park at the corner of Lake and Virginia streets.

1-4 p.m. – Tour of Cottages in the park. Each year, a few of the park residents graciously open their cottages for viewing, a spokesperson noted. Tickets may be purchased near the concession stand.

1 p.m. – Brat sandwiches available at the auditorium.

2 p.m. – Entertainment begins in the auditorium with the Vince Villanova Big Band playing music from the big band era.

Persons attending are invited to wear vintage hats related to the Victorian era. For Chautauqua Homecoming Days information, call 740-484-4716 or email jack

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