Chautauqua

1905chautauqua waxahachie

When was the last time you saw a Victorian fashion show?  Went to a pie social?  Heard a concert by the Levee Singers?

If any of that sounds good to you, then come to Getzendaner Park in Waxahachie, Texas on Sept. 26 and see all this and more at the beautiful, round pavilion.  Built in 1902 for the princely sum of $2,750, it was designed to seat 2500 people for Chautauqua meetings.  With the windows raised, it became an open air auditorium and overflow crowds – sometimes numbering over 2,000 – would gather around the sides, eager to hear the programs. It is now included on the National Register of Historical Buildings and Sites.

The Chautauqua movement began in 1874, when a Methodist minister had an idea to help solve the problem of cultural isolation of rural Americans.  John Vincent and businessman Lewis Miller organized a series of meetings  in a campground setting.  Storytelling, music, lectures, political reform topics (such as child labor laws, temperance, prison reform, women’s suffrage) humor, entertainment and sermons were provided.  The meetings were popular and it ignited a movement that spread all across the country from the original site in Chautauqua, New York. Among the original headliners were William Jennings Bryan, Will Rogers and the U.S. Marine Band. At it’s peak in the 1920’s over 45 million Americans were attending. Then with improved availability of transportation, radio and the movies, the national culture changed and attendance dropped off dramatically.  A few communities have had continuous meetings all these years.  Waxahachie, Texas revived their movement in 2000 with an annual one day meeting, each year choosing a new theme.

This year, the planners are highlighting the history and importance of  King Cotton.  Saturday, September 26, 2009 the theme will be Cotton:  the Fabric of a Community and will include a historical fashion show, a lecture on Dressing the Victorian Woman, a book signing, hands-on demonstrations and exhibits, 2 concerts plus sing-a-long music, a catered dinner and pie social and more.

Two years ago my husband and I attended and loved it.  The programs are well planned and interesting.  That year the subject was the Texas wind and one of the lectures was by a Channel 8 meteorologist.  Now, anyone that knows me can tell you that science is not one of my favorite subjects, but that man completely held my interest (I learned why weather reports vary from station to station and how they are wrong so often.)

Here’s the Waxahachie Chautauqua website . They’ve included a wonderful slide show of the auditorium and last year’s event. Even if you can’t attend, I recommend viewing the pictures. As you can see from the photos, it’s a beautiful building.

It doesn’t list the admission price (which won’t include the dinner and probably not the evening concert) but they do have contact information. If I remember correctly it was somewhere between $10 – 15 per person. And for all you get, that’s a bargain.

Waxahachie  Christmas 2008
This is a photo I took during their Christmas home tour last year.

Merely driving through Waxahachie is a treat. The Victorian houses are lovely, the courthouse a treasure. Even if you’ve never been there, you may have seen the town if you’ve watched Places in the Heart, Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful, Pure Country, 1918 Walker Texas Ranger,and a whole lot more. Most of Horton Foote’s stories were filmed there. A more complete list of the movies made there is at this website .

And incidentally, if you’re asking for directions, it’s pronounced Wocks-uh-hatch-ee. I liked to never learned that after we moved to Texas.

Hope to see you there.

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