In the late 1890s, the Texas Board of Regents determined to establish a summer school for teachers in a cool climate. Because the Chautauqua Movement was such a powerful and popular cultural force in the United States at the time, the regents surmised that the best way to obtain a favorable location for the teachers’ school would be to partner with a railroad company, package the school with a chautauqua, and barter with a Colorado town for a site. Boulder city leaders wooed the Texans by offering to supply land, facilities and public utilities for the assembly. The site for what originally was called the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua was expressly chosen for its spectacular mountain setting and its health-giving environment.
On July 4, 1898, over 4,000 people gathered for the opening day of the Colorado Chautauqua. Boulder civic leaders and Texas educators had joined together to create a cultural and educational summer retreat. A promotional brochure published at the time proclaimed, “The program embraces a period of six weeks and is by all odds the most comprehensive intellectual retreat ever presented west of the Mississippi River.”
Located at the base of Boulder’s Flatirons and one of only 24 National Historic Landmarks in the state of Colorado, the Colorado Chautauqua is one of only a few remaining chautauquas in the U.S. It is considered THE western representation of the cultural movement that swept the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is the only site west of the Mississippi that has been in continuous operation since its founding and with its original structures intact and used for their original purposes.
The City of Boulder owns the 40 acres of land underlying the Colorado Chautauqua, along with the Auditorium, the Dining Hall and the Academic Hall. Since its founding in 1898, the City has leased 26 acres of the land and those buildings to the Colorado Chautauqua Association – the 501 (c) (3) steward of the chautauqua. The Colorado Chautauqua Association owns the Community House, the Missions House Lodge and the Columbine Lodge as well as 60 of the 99 cottages on the premises. The other 39 cottages are privately owned – with the land subleased to the private individuals by the Colorado Chautauqua Association. All buildings are subject to Landmark Design Guidelines administered by the City of Boulder.
The Colorado Chautauqua Association (CCA) is a 501 (c) (3) Colorado nonprofit corporation that leases 26 acres of grounds, the Auditorium, Dining Hall and Academic Hall from the City of Boulder and has responsibility for preservation and use of those facilities as well as the buildings it owns. The mission of CCA is to preserve, perpetuate and improve the site and spirit of the historic Chautauqua by enhancing its community and values through cultural, educational, social and recreational experiences. CCA provides lodging, programming and venues for private events in the historic Chautauqua buildings and grounds.
Now in its second century, the Colorado Chautauqua remains committed to its historic purpose, offering outstanding cultural and educational programs and attracting more than a million visitors each year.
The Heartland Emmy Award Winning video “COLORADO SPACES: BOULDER” is produced by Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting Service.