Close this search box.
Lakesider News

Russell Conwell & “Acres of Diamonds”

Staff Blogger: Dakota Harkins, Lakeside Heritage Society Manager

The birth of the Chautauqua Movement in 1874 brought unexpected fame and fortune to formerly unknown orators around the country, mainly due to its unique focus on both secular and religious education.

Though Northeastern audiences would one day become familiar with the Baptist minister Russell Conwell, as the founder and first President of Temple University in Philadelphia, he was relatively anonymous before his days on the Chautauqua Circuit.

The essay and lecture “Acres of Diamonds” granted Conwell fame on the circuit and made him a household name around the world. Written after a trip to the Middle East in 1869, the lecture was based on the concept that “one need not look elsewhere for opportunity, achievement, or fortune; the resources to achieve all good things are present in one’s own community.” This idea aligned perfectly with the tenets of the Chautauqua Movement, making it a crowd favorite.

Lakeside’s first Secretary, Samuel Gill, knew of Conwell and managed to convince him to speak at Lakeside Chautauqua three times – in 1891, 1892 and 1901. During two of those three occasions, Conwell headlined with “Acres of Diamonds.”

According to the writings of Lakeside historian, Eleanor Durr, he never spoke using notes, which made his presentation different every time. Lakesiders clamored for seats in the first auditorium to hear tales of riches and jewels that could be found “in your own backyard.”

Just how popular was “Acres of Diamonds?” Conwell ultimately delivered it 6,152 times before his death in 1925. This prolific program eventually netted him the funding to found Temple University.

To learn more about Russell Conwell and his time at Lakeside, refer to Lakeside Ohio: First 100 Years by Eleanor Durr, which can be found at Heritage Hall Museum or the Lakeside Heritage Society Archives.


Related News