The Chautauqua movement is a uniquely American experience and one which shaped this country during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Born on Chautauqua Lake in New York, the movement started as an effort to support and professionalize teaching. It had loose connections to various Protestant denominations, but it was a largely secular movement.
So, what happened at a Chautauqua?
Well, people got together for an extended period of time to listen to lectures and music, to watch plays and operas, to read, to discuss, and to enjoy educational activities together. Chautauquas were often held in camp setting – something of an educational summer camp for adults. There were hundreds of Chautauqua locations across the country, and Teddy Roosevelt once called the Chautauqua movement “the most American thing in America.”
As the car, the radio, movies and television shaped the country, the Chautauqua movement faded away.
However, there are still several places in the US that preserve the Chautauqua spirit. Prime among them: the Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder, Colorado. Last weekend I stayed at the Colorado Chautauqua , a National Historic Landmark at the base of the Flatiron Mountains. It was lovely! I was not there for a Chautauqua event, though there are many there throughout the year. But our little two bedroom, one bathroom cottage was cozy and comfortable – a great place for a long weekend away. It was clean, tidy, and had a nicely furnished kitchen as well as a great screened-in porch. The cottages range in size from an efficiency to three bedrooms. Additionally, there are two larger lodges on the grounds.
Within the park there is an Auditorium which is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, the Dining Hall is open all year and serves delicious meals at reasonable prices.
The lodging can be hard to come by, so make your reservations early. Information about reservations as well as a calendar of upcoming events can be found on the Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark website.
There are other places in the country that carry on the Chautauqua spirit. Have you ever been to a Chautauqua?