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Lakeside Heritage Trail
26. German Auditorium
540 Central Avenue
German Auditorium circa 1889
South Auditorium 2022
Rev. Dr. William (Wilhelm) Nast, the founder of the German Methodist Church had two primary objectives in life, to preach the Gospel and to help German immigrants become Americans, not just live as immigrants in a new land.
Following the 1874 Dedication of Lakeside, Dr. Nast and the Central German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church committed to providing a camp meeting program in German each summer. For several years the German Camp Meeting was held in Lake (Bettinger) Park near where the Women’s Club now stands. The noise of steamboats moving freight and passengers in and out of Lakeside made a noisy environment to hold camp meetings. They soon asked the Lakeside Company to move their meetings to another location, and a new location was selected at Sixth Street and Central Avenue.
For several years, the German Camp Meetings were held either in the open or under a large tent, until a large open-air auditorium was constructed in 1883. The new building was dedicated as German Auditorium on August 15, 1883. One of the first Lakeside buildings to be equipped with electric lights, it was said to be beautiful at night.
The first sermon in the new auditorium was preached by Rev. Henry Liebhart, the editor of the German “Haus and Home.” It was through his efforts that attendees were encouraged to join the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circles and to create “Lakeside Circles” in their home communities to continue year-round learning.
Leaders of the German-speaking churches included Bishops, missionaries, academic and industry leaders who attracted as many as 4,000 people each summer to Lakeside to immerse themselves in hours of preaching. Education, temperance programming, prayer meetings and community-building activities also took place.
By the early 1930’s, use of the German language in the Ohio region had decreased significantly. Dr. Nast’s goal of helpings German immigrants become Americans had been accomplished. The German Methodists merged into the English Methodist Episcopal Church in 1933. Although the large German meetings ended, many of them still gathered annually until the early 1940’s to hold reunions at Lakeside. They considered German Auditorium as sacred ground.
As time passed, improvements were made to the auditorium. The dirt floor was replaced with concrete and the building was enclosed in 1931. A small extension was added to the north end of the auditorium. In 1953, two unattached wings for meeting rooms were added on the north end of the structure to meet the needs of larger groups and more activities.
South Auditorium retains much of its distinctive period beauty. The auditorium interior consists of one large open room and stage. Decorative Victorian framing and posts support the roof. The spacious interior of the central building, along with the two wings, makes it ideal for an endless variety of events. Summers find it continuously filled with youth activities, musical events, plays, dances, antique shows and recycle sales.