Assembly Park Association
Of the 23 active associations surrounding Lake Delavan, none has a more storied past than Assembly Park. Archeological research suggests that the beautiful area we know as Assembly Park was occupied by early Indians as early as 5000 B.C. In the 1840’s circus owners Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie established Mabiewood to house circus employees, performers, and animals. In the late 1800’s the area became home to a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. These Circles popularly known as Assemblies (thus the Park’s name) were all the cultural rage of the era. These summer camps for families were seen as an opportunity for “education and uplift”. Throughout the country more than half a million people participated in more than 160 assemblies.
Though the Assemblies began in 1874, the Delavan Lake Assembly was formally organized in August of 1898. Organizers issued 300 shares of “capital” stock and purchased the 38 acre site from the Mabie heirs. The shares included a 99-year lease on a lot. The streets in the Park were named after leading temperance and abolition advocates of the time. Over three thousand people a day from throughout the country attended the 10 day Assemblies which featured noted speakers on a wide range of important topics of the day, leading entertainers, leading political figures, and by the early 1900’s (talk about cutting edge!) moving pictures. Programs for each of the 14 years have been dutifully preserved by the Association and make fascinating reading.
The gatherings were held in a 3500-seat audi-torium built in 1899. Guests were housed in cottages and tents and were fed daily in special tents. The Chautauqua programs continued each July for more than 16 years until 1914. The Auditorium was destroyed by fire in 1919.
The 99-year leases issued in 1898 expired in 1998 and have been extended until 2075. Thus each homeowner in the Park leases the land on which that home stands. The Assembly Park Association currently has over 200 members and is led by a nine-member board. Both the board and the association membership have been active and effective supporters of lake improvement activities over their entire 107 year operating history. They also organized and buried a time capsule to commemorate the centennial. In it are mementos intended to capture the era, including a picture of Vince Lombardi.
Assembly Park is known as a "family" park, and many homes have been passed from one generation to another. The annual Arbor Day Picnic in September and the children's dances at the Assembly Hall on Thursday nights during July and August are traditional events. For over 50 years there has been an active Ladies Auxiliary group, which is an integral part in organizing these activities. Both adults and children have fond memories of years gone by and have formed lasting friendships while spending summers there.
The association’s current President is Dick Graff. Mr. Graff and his wife Linda share a long and happy history in the “park”.