Colorado Chautauqua

Just returned from my second trip to Colorado this summer, this time for work. Had two free days to explore and decided to forego history for once and focus on nature.  Day one was a spectacular hike near Vail. On day two,  a friend took me on a hike near Boulder and we somehow ended up having lunch in a park which happens to be a national historic landmark. Can’t get away from history if I try (not that I really try).

Chautauqua Park is home of the Colorado Chautauqua , part of the chautauqua movement in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Started in New York state, on Chautauqua Lake, it was an adult education effort to bring culture and learning to more rural areas of the country, in a camp-like setting that celebrated nature.  Teddy Roosevelt supposedly said the chautauqua movement was the most American thing in America.

Opened on July 4, 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua is the only chautauqua west of the Mississippi that has been in continuous operation. Many of its original structures are still in use today and used for their original purpose. The 1898 dining hall sits on a bright green lawn in front of a dramatic mountain backdrop. A variety of lodging facilities, some over a hundred years old, dot the park. At a time when Colorado was still the frontier and its citizens did not have access to education, the Chautauqua brought engaging speakers, musicians and theater to a culturally hungry population. William Jennings Bryan was supposedly the most famous chautauqua speaker.

The Chautauqua movement died out in the 1930s – many people attribute this death to the rise of radio and TV and the automobile. Sadly only three chautauquas still exist in the United States. But for a taste of cultural life, visit the Colorado Chautauqua and revel in the chautauqua ideals of lifelong learning, love of nature, voluntary simplicity and music, oration, and the arts.

Have you been to a chautauqua? Share your experience.

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