Liberty Puzzles at the General Store

Liberty Puzzles at the General Store

The Chautauqua General Store is pleased to partner with local Boulder favorite, Liberty Puzzles!

Established in Boulder in 2005, Liberty Puzzles are a nostalgic entry into a new golden age of wooden jigsaw puzzles. Inspired by the hand-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles of yore, and utilizing the technology of our modern age, their puzzles are laser cut. This allows them to create beautifully complex pieces, including “whimsy” pieces, hand-designed in the shape of plants, animals, and geometric designs that complement the image of each one of their puzzles.

Check out the two Chautauqua inspired puzzles sold at the General Store:

A portion of the proceeds from this puzzle go to the Boulder County Wildfire Fundby The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, to benefit those in our community who lost their houses in the Marshall Fire.




Today’s Centennial Garden was first laid out in 1907, possibly designed by landscape architect W.W. Parce, who was planning Chautauqua’s grounds at the time. It featured looping paths separating beds of shrubs and flowers, and then-tiny spruce trees that now tower over the site. An early visitor rhapsodized, “The artistic garden to the west of the Auditorium is the most charming this side of California.”
The garden’s beauty peaked in the early 1940s. Unfortunately, after 1945 Chautauqua’s financial difficulties resulted in minimal upkeep – for over 40 years.
In 1997, in preparation for the Centennial celebrations the next year, Executive Director Leslie Durgan and landscape designer Christina Baud determined to restore the garden. In the spring of 1998, sprinklers were installed, sand and soil and manure and grass seed were spread, perennials and shrubs were planted. Much of the material was donated by local businesses.
A giant rock was set in the center of the garden to anchor a fountain. The Winslow Foundation (established in memory of Wren Wirth’s mother, Julia Dierks Winslow) donated $5000 for the decorative fountain, and Tribble Stone made an in-kind donation of drilling the rock from which the fountain flowed and engraving a stone plaque with “Fountain in Loving Memory of Virginia Davis Wirth Wiebenson Parent and Teacher” (Wren Wirth’s mother-in-law).
Finally, four brick paths that duplicate the paths in the original garden were laid. Approximately 10,000 bricks were purchased from the Denver Brick Company for $25,000. The bricks (Inca red flashed garden pavers) were laid over felt paper on a sand subbase in a 2” trench. The bricks, sold to individuals by Chautauqua and engraved with tributes, are fundraisers and memorials. They support preservation of Chautauqua’s historic buildings and grounds as well as development of educational and cultural programs. Cost per brick is $200.00. Initially, in 1998, 2,000 were engraved; as of 2020 it was more than 15,000. The Master Brick Location Spreadsheet contains the location and message of every brick in the garden, so people can find their brick.
In 1991 Wren Wirth told the Chautauqua Board she wanted to make a grant from the Winslow Foundation for a xeriscape garden south of Academic Hall. The Wirths selected Robert Howard Associates as the landscape architect. On December 15, 1992, Robert Howard Associates submitted the design plan, and Senator Tim Wirth made a donation in memory of his parents, Cecil Wirth and Virginia Davis Wiebenson.
Work began in spring 1993. In May, Astor Lane was filled in across the south end of the triangular garden site, and plants started going in the next month. The Water Wise Garden was dedicated on July 17, 1993. In February 1995 it won an Honor Award in the 1994 City of Boulder Xeriscape Awards Program. In 2004 the Winslow Foundation awarded Chautauqua a grant for plant identification, bricks, and wire settees, and in the winter of 2018-2019, with the help of a Winslow Foundation grant, the garden was completely renovated in time for the summer season.
The so-called wire settees in the Waterwise Garden south of Academic Hall are actually made of iron, not wire, but they look like they’re made of wire. They are the survivors of the hundred “iron settees” ordered in 1906 for Chautauqua. Over the years the iron settees were stolen or dispersed to other Boulder locations (the Courthouse lawn, etc.). In 2004, eleven of the old settees were acquired from the Courthouse in exchange for our wooden benches and $1800. They now grace the perimeter of the Waterwise Garden.

Couple walking through gardens with tennis racquets

The Auditorium

The Auditorium

The Auditorium

When the Auditorium was built in 1898 it was not as comfortable as it is today.

The floor was dirt covered with sawdust. ”The children may play in the sand at their parents’ feet,” said the Chautauqua Bulletin. The auditorium was originally open on three sides to provide for free passage of air.  But with the slightest breeze, or even when anyone walked about, dense clouds of sawdust and dirt filled the building, obscuring the view of the stage and often requiring a wet handkerchief held over the mouth.  Sprinkling water on the floor, installing huge wooden doors on the north and south sides of the building, and even boarding up the west windows didn’t help much. Mary Bradford Rovetta, a summer resident from 1915 through 2015, remembers that in the 1920s, the children would sneak into the Auditorium every morning to search in the sawdust for change that had fallen out of the men’s pockets the night before. A ring lost in 1912 was found in the sawdust in 1915.

 In 1917 Chautauqua contracted to have the center section of the floor covered with concrete. After that, sections were paved in at least six separate yearly projects. Holes under the seats were filled and the entrances paved in 1948. Concreting was finally completed in 1950.

The Auditorium could seat 6000 people on wooden benches. They were hard. “Cushion boys” rented cushions at five cents each. In 1917, 600 “opera chairs” replaced the benches in the center sections, followed in 1941 by 150 salvaged from Whittier School, in 1950 by 350 from the Loveland Theater, and In 1965 by 600 from CU. In the 1980s, when 270 seats became available from the Houston Music Hall, at $5.26 per seat, but removal and transportation and costs were beyond Chautauqua’s budget, CCA Executive Director Phil Zimmerman and Facilities Manager Dave Henley rented two U-Haul trucks, drove to Houston, and transported the seats back to Boulder. A few benches remain at the back of the Auditorium. If you buy the cheap tickets, bring cushions.

Entertainment in the Auditorium was, in the beginning, mainly oratory, formal musical programs, and movies. Until the early 1930s Chautauqua audiences also enjoyed dancers, animal acts, magicians, acrobats, and dramatic readings.

But movies were the big draw. The Auditorium was wired when it was built, expressly so that movies could be shown.  On July 21, 1898, Chautauqua screened its first film: “Diorama and Wargraph, with Music, Reproducing Scenes of the War with Spain.” In 1900 Chautauqua presented Georges Melies’ “Cinderella” and “A Trip to the Moon,” films that lasted almost ten minutes each and sent the audience home “in a daze,” writes local historian Silvia Pettem.

Despite technical limitations (fuzzy images projected on a tablecloth nailed to the stage wall, noisy projectors, frequent breaks to change reels), movies quickly became the most popular entertainment at Chautauqua. In 1917 the Board of Directors decided to increase the proportion of movies to live entertainment, and a permanent projection booth was built. In 1918, 50% of the programming was movies, and in 1919 permanent projection equipment was installed.  This is certainly one reason for the Colorado Chautauqua’s survival, when almost all the other Chautauquas in the country died as tastes changed and live entertainment became scarce and expensive. In 1932 Chautauqua switched to “talkies” and for the next sixty years showed second-run family movies every summer (98% of the fare by 1953).

Children who lived in Boulder in the 1950s and 60s remember being dropped off at the Shelter House on Baseline to go to the movies. Bats flew. Skunks smelled. People smoked. Luckily the dilapidated Auditorium was pretty open to the outdoors by then.

Major renovation of the building began in 1979. Once the Auditorium had been rehabilitated, in 1979, Chautauqua brought back live music, the Summer Festival, which has grown to include more than twenty nationally-known artists each year.

In 1986 Chautauqua brought back silent films. The Silent Film Series shows many of the same films in the same venue as 120 years ago. Silent films always had live music, at first to drown out projector noise but quickly becoming an essential part of the experience. Hank Troy, a Denver-based ragtime and jazz pianist, has provided live musical accompaniment for the Chautauqua Silent Film Series since 1986. ”What we’re trying to produce is a return to the ‘20s, a rare experience where live entertainment and movies converged,” says Troy. Movie musicians in the past had books of sheet music, covering such actions as “fight” or “stealthy movement in the dark.” Troy, however, improvises, partly basing his accompaniment on popular songs of the time the film was produced but avoiding anything too familiar. Since 1991 the Mont Alto Picture Orchestra, an ensemble from Louisville, has played for several of the films each season.

As it did in 1898, Chautauqua has a resident orchestra, which plays for the six-week long classical Colorado Music Festival. CMF was founded at CU in 1976 by Giora Bernstein, a music professor there. In 1977 Bernstein held a rehearsal in the Chautauqua Auditorium and said afterwards, “The all-wooden structure vibrated, and I found it acoustically wonderful. I realized it would be an ideal place to hold the music festival.” Though the Auditorium was in dire need of repair, CMF moved to Chautauqua the next year, presenting eight concerts. The orchestra is recruited internationally. Musicians rehearse in the morning, hike in the afternoon, and perform at night. Some of them met at CMF and are still married.

From Apple Orchard to National Treasure

From Apple Orchard to National Treasure

From Apple Orchard to National Treasure

The oldest surviving structure at Chautauqua, built in 1882, Cottage # 200, is the Ranch House, aka the Superintendent’s House, the Stone Cottage, and the Keeper’s Dwelling, located by the windmill on the path that runs north-south between Community House and the General Store. It was the home of the Bachelder family, from whom the City of Boulder purchased the land for the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua in 1898 —  the Bachelder Ranch.

Or was it the Batchelder Ranch? It’s spelled with a “t” in the original homestead records in 1892 granting George C. and Malvina Batchelder’s son, William W. Batchelder, an 80-acre homestead; the 1898 lease between the Texas Colorado Chautauqua and the City of Boulder; most of the records at Boulder’s Carnegie Library for Local History; and the seven Batchelder family grave markers at Boulder’s Columbia Cemetery. But it’s spelled without a “t” in all editions of Mary Galey’s The Grand Assembly, the CCA Newsletter, the Chautauqua Park Historic District Cultural Landscape Assessment Report (2004); and the National Historic Landmark Application (2006) and Supplement (2010).

Local historian Silvia Pettem says, “[I]t appears that Mary Galey spelled it wrong, and no one bothered to go back to primary source documents when they prepared the more recent documents in the following years.”

The Batchelders raised alfalfa and apples. An apple orchard surrounded the house and disappeared over the years as Chautauqua developed the property, but a few heirloom apple trees remain, mainly exploited by bears.

From 1882, when the Batchelder ranch was settled, a windmill-powered pump had moved drinking water from the reservoir on the south edge of the property, fed by a ditch from Bluebell Spring and the September Springs on the southeast side of the property, to the water tank just south of the ranch house. When the reservoir water became suspect, sometime before 1910, the windmill and tank were replaced by a hand pump to a new deep well. The water pump was the hip happening scene.

Fetching water from the pump was the children’s chore, but everyone congregated there. The 1921 Chautauqua Bulletin noted, “ . . .thousands of visitors from all parts of the country. They come to drink the pure water from the deep well but they stay to chat with friends and talk over the program of the night before, the lecture of the morning and the next social gathering in the Community House.”

In 1941 all Chautauqua buildings were connected to the new City water main. Despite efforts by the Cottagers Club to save it as a memento, the pump was moved to the top of Flagstaff Mountain and eventually destroyed by vandals.

The present windmill on the south side of the ranch house is a duplicate (not a reproduction) of the original windmill, manufactured in the 1940’s by The Airmotion company of Chicago, and moved here in 2020 from a farm in Kansas.

The house has had various uses. Chautauqua’s first season, 1898, the Ranch House served as office, mail room, and reception center.  From 1903 through 1905, the City Directory for Boulder lists R. R. Lyman, Superintendent of Colorado Chautauqua Grounds, living in the stone cottage. From 1923 through 1945, it was occupied by Lura and John S. Mills, City of Boulder Parks Director. Chautauqua Park is a City of Boulder park, and the rent-free house was a perk for the Parks Director until 1949. After 1949, the Chautauqua Caretaker lived there year-round, Chautauqua paying the City $40 a month rent. Chautauqua purchased the house in 1998.

In 2013, the Chautauqua Archives were moved there, the house being the only building at Chautauqua not mainly wood. The archives contain approximately 5,000 items dating back to 1898. Holdings range from photographs and marketing materials to extensive documentation on buildings, grounds, programming, and organizational operations. The collection was inaccessible until 2014, when cataloging was completed. A portion of the collection has been digitized, and the rest will be digitized in 2023.

A sampling of historical photographs and printed materials is available on CCA’s website (

Item of the Month – The Chautauqua Cambria Mug

Item of the Month – The Chautauqua Cambria Mug

The snowdrops and crocuses are starting to cautiously peek out from under the snow at Chautauqua and the days are slowly getting longer. However, that doesn’t mean the chilly weather is in the rearview mirror! As we know in Colorado, spring snowstorms and cold snaps can still pop up on occasion.

A warm drink is one way to make the chilly March days a little cozier. It’s just the thing when you’re curled up with some hot chocolate in your Chautauqua cottage after a long day of snowshoeing or sitting at home with your morning coffee or tea. Of course, you will need the perfect mug.

The Chautauqua Cambria mug has a charming and nostalgic campfire mug design and is made from sturdy, microwave-safe stoneware. Sit back and enjoy your favorite hot drink, no roaring fire needed!

Buy the mug at or stop by the General Store at 900 Baseline Rd, Boulder CO

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