In Siloam Springs, religion has always held great importance. The use of the word “always” here is not hyperbole to make a point. In fact, the name “Siloam” comes from the Bible. In the book of John, Jesus healed a blind man by putting mud on his eyes and having him wash in the pool of Siloam. Siloam Spring, near University Street, is named after this pool, and it is from this that the town of Siloam Springs gets its name.
Around the time of the town’s incorporation in 1881, a new religious movement had gained popularity starting in Lake Chautauqua, New York and moving eastward. The Chautauqua movement began in 1874 as a weekend lake retreat for Methodist Sunday school teachers, and eventually grew into a large, multi-town program covering education, culture, and entertainment. Towns across the United States built their own Chautauqua buildings and held their own Chautauqua conferences. Siloam Springs built its first Chautauqua building in 1885 in time for that year’s Chautauqua summer conference. It stood where the Siloam Springs Library currently stands.
Eventually, the Siloam Springs Chautauqua decided it should have something closer to a building, rather than a pavilion. In 1907, the new building was finished on the same site as the first. Events were held in this building all through the summer, allowing local and non-local evangelists and politicians a place to speak and a large audience.
The first conference in the new Chautauqua building was even large enough to bring in William Jennings Bryan as a speaker. Today, Bryan may be most well known for opposing Darwinism in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial. But between 1896 and 1908, Bryan ran for President three times. When he came to Siloam Springs in 1907, he likely had his eye toward the 1908 election.
But according to the late Maggie Smith, the summer months at the Chautauqua building were filled with revivals from local evangelists more often than traveling speakers. One such evangelist was Lovic P. Law. The series of photos featured this week were donated to the Siloam Springs Museum in 1976. The photos, taken in 1907, come from an album full of photos of Rev. Lovic P. Law, who occasionally spoke at the Chautauqua building. Law apparently had a slapstick sense of humor, as all of the photos in this series except the last show Law with a humorously distorted face. With such a sense of humor, Law was surely an entertaining orator.
Siloam’s Chautauqua building was torn down in the 1930’s, and the scrap steel was used to build a community building. The Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital was later built on the Chautauqua site, followed by the library, which still stands there today.
Written by Chuck McClary with information from the Siloam Springs Museum archives and Hico, a Heritage: Siloam Springs History by Maggie Smith.