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Chautauqua: 1890s

Chautauqua: 1890s

New York state circa 1890s. "Assembly hall, Chautauqua." Which was not just a place but a movement. Glass negative by William Henry Jackson. View full size.


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Totally gone now!

This building is now totally demolished. The Institution decided they needed an entirely new structure to go ahead into their next couple of centuries, and has raised it to the ground. They are now building a new "Amp" that will have an orchestra pit that rises and lowers, enormously improved backstage facilities, and many other features. The roof line will be virtually identical, and it will hold about 500 more people. MUCH brouhaha over this project, which I will sidestep.
Here is a webcam that shows the project's progress.


Chautauqua is a wonderful, magical place. The PERFECT place to spend a summer! Check it out!

Still kicking

I went to Chautauqua Institute with my exwife's family one summer. A gated community in which private home owners rent their houses to visitors for weeks at a time. The Institute had weekly programs featuring a theme, and lectures, art exhibits and performers were all booked to support the theme. The lake has a beach with sand, there are numerous trails and bike paths but it is indeed a built up community of homes. Performers worked in the open air theatre/amphitheatre and it was really interesting and quaint. The biggest drawbacks were the mosquitoes and black flies.

American Original

I'm guessing that this is the original Chautauqua venue in upstate New York. Chautauqua later became a generic name for the traveling tent shows that criss-crossed America during the summers. They featured musicians, jugglers, singers, yodelers, storytellers and always finished with inspirational speakers who's most frequent topics were positive thinking and how to accumulate wealth. They were extremely popular, especially in rural America, and drew capacity crowds.

Chautauqua vs. Ocean Grove, NJ Auditorium


Thanks for adding the history about the two venues and their designs. I'm attaching a photo of the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ that shows a better view of the design.

I've performed on that stage

I performed here in my youth as part of an all-county high school orchestra to an absolutely packed house. Picture "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during a raging thunderstorm.

Ocean Grove

The Ocean Grove Auditorium is the kid brother of the Amphitheatre in Chautauqua. The designers took all the details of the original, and adapted it to their location. Almost identical capacity. The one in Chautauqua is built in a natural ravine, whereas the one in Jersey is on the beach. So they tucked the sides in a little and put a balcony all around. The Ocean Grove one has all natual finish on the wood, which makes it look like the inside of a cello, just gorgeous. Chautauqua has that wonderfully drab yellow paint. Ocean Grove has a 10,000 pipe organ. A toss up as to which is better, they're both great venues for a concert.

Sound system not required

I saw Ethel Merman in what I believe was that same outdoor auditorium in Chatauqua, NY, in the summer of 1977. The sound system wasn't working, but of course with Ethel Merman that didn't matter. Chatauqua at the time was a picturesque vacation town packed with beautiful old houses. I expect it still is.

And don't miss the massive organ.

There is a wonderful pipe organ custom-built to work with this stage. A highlight from two years ago was the showing of a silent movie starring Zasu Pitts while a talented and energetic organist played the complete original score, accompanying the movie scene-for-scene.

Uncomfortable Seats

Those hard wooden benches look as uncomfortable as the wooden chairs that are in the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ which was built in 1894!

Great sound system!

I'm not an engineer, but it seems to me this hall was designed with sound in mind. As well as being a platform for a speaker or small musical group, the stage would also have projected sound up to those reflective wooden ceilings. I bet you could hear a whisper from the stage anywhere in that hall. This, plus the circular arrangement of the benches (or pews) would have contributed to an intimate experience for both audience and speaker.

One lonely soul

all the way up in the nosebleeds.


There were Chautauquas in many places. I live in the remnant of one near Carlisle, Ohio (which is to say, the middle of nowhere).

Education for everyone

Nineteenth-century Americans valued education. The Chatauqua movement joined the earlier Lyceum movement, mechanics' institutes, agricultural extension, and land grant colleges in an attempt to bring education to as many people as possible, at any point in their lives. Public radio and television have tried to extend the success of these pioneering institutions.

[And it was motion pictures, the phonograph and radio that helped bang a lot of nails into the Chautauqua movement's coffin. - Dave]


The Chautauqua Institution is still active and has an online presence:

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