FAQs

Q. What is a 'chautauqua'?

A. The Chautauqua Movement was America’s first truly national mass educational and cultural movement. It takes its name from the Chautauqua Institution on Lake Chautauqua in western New York, which started in 1874 as a summer school for Sunday school teachers. Within a few years, it had broadened its scope to include adult education of all kinds, as well as a correspondence course – the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle – designed to bring “a college outlook” to working and middle-class people. As its members and graduates spread the chautauqua ideals of lifelong learning, love of nature, voluntary simplicity, music, oration and the arts, many towns, especially in rural areas where opportunities for secondary education were limited, established “chautauquas.” These seasonal establishments reflected the intense desire for self-improvement through education that has always marked the American striver.

“Chautauqua” became shorthand for an organized gathering intended to introduce people to the great ideas, new ideas and issues of public concern.Theodore Roosevelt said that chautauqua was “typically American, in that it is typical of America at its best.” At the height of the Chautauqua Movement (about 1915), some 12,000 communities had hosted a chautauqua. The movement pretty much died out by the mid-1930s. Most historians cite the rise of the car culture, radio and movies as the causes. Several independent chautauquas (including The Colorado Chautauqua) survived, functioning today as they did in the late 19th century: offering summer-long educational, cultural and recreational programs and accommodations. The Colorado Chautauqua is unique in being the only year-round chautauqua.

Q. What does the word 'chautauqua' mean?

A. “Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with a few meanings— “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together,” and describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York. This area was the setting for the first educational assembly (Chautauqua Institution) and so provided the named to the movement

Q. How did the Colorado Chautauqua get started?

A. 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. 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.” Continuously since its opening in 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua has been a retreat experience for respite and enrichment, demonstrating the historic chautauqua ideals of lifelong learning, love of nature, voluntary simplicity, music, oration and the arts. Now more than 119 years after its founding, the Colorado Chautauqua continues to host a unique variety of programs for the community and destination visitors, now expanding from the original summer-only to year-round lodging and programming.

Q. Why was the Colorado Chautauqua named a National Historic Landmark? Why is it considered to be nationally significant?

A. The Colorado Chautauqua is one of only a few remaining chautauquas in the United States, and is the only site west of the Mississippi River that has been in continuous operation since its founding and to have survived with its original structures intact. The Colorado Chautauqua is deemed to be an exceptional representative of the Chautauqua Movement and is deemed THE western expression of the Chautauqua Movement. It displays more historic integrity of site, structures and setting than any other chautauqua property, including those previously designated National Historic Landmarks. The Colorado Chautauqua is unique because its programming successfully assimilated popular entertainment featured at the circuit chautauquas with the educational emphasis of the independent chautauqua assemblies. It is the only year-round chautauqua, and the only one whose grounds are free and open to the public. Now over 119 years old, The Colorado Chautauqua remains a living document of the Movement’s ideals: learning for all, uplifting entertainment and useful leisure in a natural and inspiring setting.

Q. How does something become a 'National Historic Landmark'?

A. “National Historic Landmark” is a designation made by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and is given only to properties recognized as being “of national significance” and possessing “exceptional value or quality in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States.” The Colorado Chautauqua Association and the Intermountain Support Office (Denver) of the National Park Service spent nearly two years crafting a persuasive 63-page nomination package, which had to be approved by two national advisory committees before a final decision was made by then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton on February 9, 2006.

Q. How many National Historic Landmarks are there in Colorado?

A. There are currently 25 National Historic Landmarks in Colorado. The Colorado Chautauqua is the first National Historic Landmark on the central Front Range between a building at Rocky Mountain National Park and a building at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  The Denver Civic Center was added in October 2012 and Red Rocks Park/ Mount Morrison Civilian Conservation Corps Camp was added in July 2015.

Q. So what is 'Chautauqua Park', exactly?

A. The Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark is known locally as simply “Chautauqua Park.” It is a 40-acre piece of land roughly in the shape of a triangle that stretches south from Baseline Road. It adjoins Open Space and Mountain Parks on two sides, but the open space and trails are NOT part of Chautauqua Park. The “front” 14 acres is operated by the City of Boulder Parks and Recreation Department as a park; the City’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department operates the Ranger Cottage adjacent to the Mesa Trailhead and Chautauqua Meadow open space. The “back” 26 acres of Chautauqua, containing the historic buildings, is under the stewardship of the Colorado Chautauqua Association, a non-profit corporation (see detail below).

Q. Who owns the Colorado Chautauqua?

A. All of the 40 acres of land underlying Chautauqua Park is owned by the City of Boulder, along with the Auditorium, the Dining Hall and the Academic Hall. Since the founding of the Chautauqua in 1898, the City has leased the land and those buildings to the Colorado Chautauqua Association on a series of 20-year leases. The Colorado Chautauqua Association (see detail below) owns 60 of the 99 cottages, the Community House, the Missions House Lodge and the Columbine Lodge. The other 39 cottages are privately owned. The private owners own the improvements on land owned by the City of Boulder and subleased to the private individuals by the Colorado Chautauqua Association. All buildings are subject to Landmark Design Guidelines administered by the City of Boulder.

Q. What is the Colorado Chautauqua Association ('CCA')?

A. The Colorado Chautauqua Association (CCA) is a 501(c)(3) Colorado nonprofit corporation that leases 26 acres of Chautauqua Park and the Auditorium, the Dining Hall and the 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 year-round lodging, programming and venues for private events in the historic Chautauqua buildings and grounds.

Q. How does the Chautauqua Dining Hall fit in?

A. The Chautauqua Dining Hall building was built by the City of Boulder (along with the Auditorium) for opening day of the Chautauqua – July 4, 1898. It continues to be owned by the City, and has been leased to the Colorado Chautauqua Association as part of the ground lease on a series of 20-year leases since 1898. The Dining Hall building is subleased by CCA to an independent restaurant operator, Blue Finn LLC/Three Leaf Concepts (Lenny and Sara Martinelli). The Chautauqua Dining Hall is open year-round, featuring classic American dishes and a full bar. For more information, call the Dining Hall at (303) 440-3776 or visit www.chautauquadininghall.com.

Q. Does anyone live at Chautauqua?

A. Yes. of the 39 privately-owned cottages at Chautauqua, approximately eight are year-round residences, with the remaining privately-owned cottages used throughout the year and especially in summer. Of the 60 CCA-owned cottages, approximately half are rented by CCA to students and other individuals and families on September-May leases, with the balance available for nightly rental. The tradition of nine-month leases coinciding with the school year dates back to post-World War II, when the University of Colorado started using Chautauqua cottages as married student housing for returning GIs.

Q. Can I stay overnight or have a special event at the Colorado Chautauqua?

A. Absolutely. There are 57 cottages available for rent, ranging in size from efficiency to a three-bedroom, each with a fully-equipped kitchen, as well as the eight-bedroom-and-bath Missions House Lodge. For value-conscious travelers, the Columbine Lodge offers simple sleeping rooms (without kitchens, but with private baths) plus studio, and one- and two-bedroom apartments. For reservations, call (303) 952-1611 or email lodging@chautauqua.com.

The Colorado Chautauqua also features many delightful venues which can be rented for both large and small ‘life memory events’ such as weddings, small receptions, bar and bat mitzvahs or memorial services, as well as for retreats, meetings and small conferences. For information and reservations, call (303) 952-1618 or click here for more information.

Q. How many people visit the Colorado Chautauqua each year?

A. More than half a million people visit Chautauqua Park annually, including lodging guests, program attendees, private event participants, Dining Hall patrons and recreationists.

Q. Who are some famous Colorado Chautauqua performers?

A. Hundreds of performers, from orators of the early 20th century to modern musical acts and full symphonies, have graced the stage of the Chautauqua Auditorium since its opening on July 4, 1898. A few of the luminaries over the decades are “the silver-tongued orator” William Jennings Bryan, noted prohibitionist Rev. Billy Sunday, composer John Philip Sousa, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, grandfather of bluegrass Bill Monroe, “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Vice President Al Gore, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, author Stephen King, comedians Paula Poundstone and Steven Wright and popular musicians such as Ralph Stanley, David Byrne, B.B. King, Lyle Lovett, Melissa Etheridge and Los Lobos.

Q. What is the Colorado Music Festival?

A. For more than 35 years, the Colorado Music Festival (CMF) has educated, entertained and challenged audiences of all ages by presenting classical music performed by extraordinary professional musicians from around the world for six weeks every summer in the Chautauqua Auditorium. For more information, visit CMF’s website at www.comusic.org.

Q. Where can I park my car when I come to Chautauqua?

A. Established in 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua was not developed with automobile use in mind and has very limited parking space available within the National Historic Landmark boundary. The most ample supply of parking for concert goers is available on a first-come, first-served basis along Baseline Road. Carpooling and bicycling to Chautauqua is encouraged.

Save on gas and parking hassles and ride the free HOP 2 Chautauqua to the Chautauqua Summer Series and Colorado Music Festival concerts.Available on Auditorium concert nights only, the free transit service runs from approximately two hours prior to showtime to the end of each show. Buses will arrive approximately every fifteen minutes at designated stops from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. At the conclusion of each concert, buses will be staged on the east side of the Chautauqua Auditorium ready to return passengers to their destinations.

Q. How can I support the mission of the Colorado Chautauqua Association?

A. CCA gratefully accepts donations to support its preservation, cultural residency and programming missions. You also can become a member by calling (303) 952-1635 or by clicking here. Different levels of membership bring benefits including advance concert ticket purchase, discounted concert and silent film tickets, off-season lodging discounts and member-only promotions.

Q. How can I learn more about the Colorado Chautauqua?

A. Learn more about guided tours and a self-guided audio tour here.