Cottages near the entrance
|Elevation||436 ft (132.9 m)|
|- summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
Location of Illinois in the United States
Chautauqua (also known as the New Piasa Chautauqua Historic District) is a private semi-gated summer resort that started as a 19th-century tent settlement. The name Piasa is taken from a nearby Native American painting of a mythical bird, called the Piasa Bird, which was painted on the bluffs high above the Mississippi River. Chautauqua is located between Elsah and Grafton in Jersey County. Today, it is bordered by and has access from the Great River Road. It has functioned as a private non-denominational Christian summer resort for over a century.
Founded in 1885 by Methodist leaders, Piasa Chautauqua attracted thousands of people from the St. Louis area and other places in Illinois. Arriving first by packet boat, and later by automobile or the trains that ran by as often as six times a day, the vacationers were entertained, educated, and inspired by such luminaries like William Jennings Bryan, evangelists Sam Jones, Billy Sunday and Gypsy Smith, the Swiss Bell Ringers, John Philip Sousa’s band and "Sunny Jim," reputed to be one of the Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
The physical situation of the settlement added to its appeal as the hottest summer days had cool valley breezes and some evenings might require a jacket. Before the days of air-conditioning, this offered a welcome relief from the heat of the city. An early swimming pool, that used to be filled with cold spring water, remains a popular attraction.
A 1912 brochure described it as this:
"Piasa Chautauqua is located less than 40 miles from St. Louis in a beautiful valley between high, massive bluffs with the great Mississippi serving as a guard in front and almost unexplored forest at back, one of nature’s most picturesque spots, unknown to thousands but dear to those who have enjoyed its beauties and regained health from its wonderful springs and its clear, pure air, delightful cool nights, beautiful scenery and outdoor amusements, boating, swimming, fishing, bathing, lawn tennis, croquet, baseball..."
A recently formed historical society is working to integrate the Chautauqua history with that of the surrounding area. It has now been designated as the New Piasa Chautauqua Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Today, there are over one hundred cottages and substantial homes at Chautauqua. Many are occupied by the descendants of earlier owners.