Waxahachie Journal




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Waxahachie's Chautauqua Auditorium - is the sole national survivor of the turn-of-the-century phenomenon - The Traveling Chautauquas.  It has been designated a Texas State Historical Building and has been placed on the National Register of Historical Buildings and Sites.

 

Built in 1902, it seated 2500 culture-hungry Texans from all over the state at Chautauqua activities.  They came by covered wagon, surrey, on horseback, and any means at their disposal to hear such American greats as William Jennings Bryan, Will Rogers, and the U. S. Marine Band.  For two weeks each July, Waxahachie's Chautauqua Park (now Getzendaner Park) became a "tent city" where entire families came and camped out.


While the original New York Chautauqua was the brainchild of a Methodist Minister, and sponsored by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Waxahachie's Chautauqua Association was organized by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church's Reverend J. C. Smith in 1900.

The typical day then, under the canvas bigtop, included morning religious education, afternoon spiritual and secular education, and evening entertaining lectures.  The format soon expanded to accommodate other cultural endeavors and professional entertainment.  Chautauqua's growing popularity inspired progressive Waxahachians to make it a permanent institution with its own permanent building.  Tent-inspired, this octagonal wooden structure had large wooden windows on all sides.  These slid up into the walls to produce an open-air auditorium.  5000 attended the 1902 formal opening: 2500 seated inside, 1500 standing or sitting in window areas, 1000 milling the grounds.   Similar Chautauqua auditoriums were constructed throughout the growing Chautauqua Circuit.

Here during Chautauqua season, famous itinerant national "troupers" - men of the cloth, scientists, educators, statesmen, and all types of classical and popular entertainers brought to the "hinterlands" a cross-section sample of the life and experiences of the rest of the nation.  The auditorium also became the focal point of local festivities.

The Waxahachie Chautauqua served Texas until 1930 - when radio, talking pictures, and the automobile made culture and entertainment available to everyone in America.

The Waxahachie Chautauqua Auditorium was restored for the National Bicentennial July 4, 1976.  It is still in use today as a city auditorium for various functions including several visits each year by the Fort Worth Symphony.

The Chautauqua stands at the edge of Getzendaner Park and provides a look into Waxahachie’s past. Still in use, it is home to a number of theatrical events and City celebrations. With its open-air style venue and updated amenities the auditorium is perfect for

 

 

 


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