Theodore Roosevelt famously called the Chautauqua tradition, “the most American thing in America,” which is sort of funny since many Americans alive now don’t even know about it.
But there’s a reason for that.
On the shores of Chautauqua Lake in western New York State, some Sunday School teachers met for a first-of-its-kind summer seminar in the late 1800′s. Soon after, the Chautauqua Institution started offering non-religious courses and cultural events for adults, including lectures and concerts. What with no TV or radio or computers and a huge rural population back then, the U.S. latched right on to the idea and soon the landscape featured plenty of these scenic, cultural and educational gathering places. Nothing else even remotely like them existed at the time.
Enter the beginning of modern culture with its vast array of entertainment options around the 1920′s, and goodbye Chautauqua.
But! Even though the movement faded from popularity and, more or less, from our collective consciousness, the original Chautauqua in New York is still thriving and so are a few others, including the one in Boulder about 40 miles northwest of me. We visited this National Historic Landmark over the weekend, with its beautifully preserved grounds and structures like this dining hall, still standing since 1898:
Unlike the other remaining ones in this country, the Colorado Chatauqua Association in Boulder stays open and – except for lodging – free to the public all year long. It sits at the base of the Boulder Flatirons, as you can see in that first photo, on 40 acres of remarkably green and shady grounds compared to the rest of Colorado.
And also? How did AG grow old enough to be almost as tall as her father? I am not okay with this.
She and the Sidekick loved the meadow, the winding paths, and all the flower gardens filling the property:
Here’s one of the cottages. See how charming and low-key?
Besides featuring a regular schedule of speakers and performers, Chautauqua Park sits right in the middle of your typical Colorado blend of hiking trails and Open Space parks. And this time of year, wildflowers cover the hillsides on the trails:
Since this was a spur-of-the-moment day trip on the Fourth of July, we only hiked around a little, let the girls explore the gardens, and enjoyed the cool Boulder breeze and views of the Flatirons before heading back home for fireworks.
Maybe one day, when we stop paying for the massive car repair from the recent Vacation that Wasn’t, we’ll go spend a long, peaceful weekend there.