PALMER LAKE • After being on hiatus for two years, the Palmer Lake Historical Society’s Rocky Mountain Chautauqua Assembly returns, celebrating the town’s historic Chautauqua with museum tours, plein air artists’ demonstrations, a Celtic band and refreshments.
Set for 1-4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6 at Palmer Lake Town Hall and Village Green at 66 Lower Glenway St., the rain or shine event starts with a free ice cream social sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Friends of the Library at 1 p.m.
The assembly also features walking tours of the Chautauqua Grounds Glen Park and Old Town Palmer Lake. At 2 p.m., there will be a screening of Palmer Lake resident/filmmaker Jim Sawatzki’s 30-minute Chautauqua film “Summer Sojourn.”
Admission is free, and donations to the Palmer Lake Historical Society are appreciated.
The event is a revival of the annual summer gatherings which took place in the town’s rustic glen from 1886 to 1910. The Chautauqua was a summer-long gathering of featured speakers, hikes and discussions of nature, singing, concerts and outings to a variety of locations in the Pikes Peak region. Attendees stayed for nights, sometimes weeks, in tents and hotels.
The event originated near Lake Chautauqua in New York, and later events of the same nature retained the name. Summer Chautauqua assemblies were organized in more than 400 locations throughout the nation, while traveling circuit Chautauquas visited more than 10,000 communities bringing troupes of educators, speakers and entertainers brought educational programs to rural areas.
However, the popularity of these gatherings started to fade in Palmer Lake and elsewhere in the 1910s, as people began to use their summers for other means of vacation and seek entertainment from other outlets instead of assembling for Chautauquas.
Recalling the Chautauqua heyday of Palmer Lake is the 8,352-foot Chautauqua Mountain and Ridge that rise above the town and lake, and are part of a loop popular with hikers.
The Palmer Lake Historical Society revived its Chautauqua in August 2008 as a one-day event which featured traditional lectures and character performances. Sawatzki, acting president of the Palmer Lake Historical Society and a local filmmaker, organized the town’s Chautauqua revival for its first three years.
“It’s a pretty exciting time,” Sawatzki said. “It started because the town wanted to do a film on the Chautauqua. The historical society said ‘Why not try to bring it back?’”
Sawatzki said what should make this year’s Chautauqua stand out are the plein air artist demonstrations, and artist’s creating paintings on the village green. Also, he said, the Celtic band will perform without using any electrified instruments, so their music is heard as it would have been during the Chautauquas at the turn of the 20th century.
The Friends of the Library have traditionally been involved with the town’s Chautauqua, and offering free ice cream usually brings a crowd, he said.
“I think we will get a crowd,” Sawatzki said. “When you give free ice cream away for an hour and a half, people come. They can come sit around the park, listen to Celtic music, watch painters and if they want, they can sign up to take one of the walking tours.”
The Palmer Lake resident said those who wish to participate in the walking tour of Glen Park should arrive early to register. That tour will be limited to 15 persons as it travels narrow roads below the village near the creek, where the original Palmer Lake Chautauqua grounds were. Several Chautauqua-era cabins still exist on those grounds.
Palmer Lake’s Chautauqua may have started 12 years after the first Chautauqua in New York; however, it was the first Chautauqua of the Rocky Mountain west. The University of Denver was involved then, furnishing the lectures on a variety of subjects for the early Palmer Lake assemblies.
“This assembly was a very highly cultured event,” Sawatzki said. “It was an elitist thing. You had to have money to stay here for the entire assembly.”
The 2022 Palmer Lake Chautauqua assembly is a smaller version of its 2008 revival, encompassing just one afternoon.
The 2008 revival coverd an entire weekend and welcomed hundreds. Sawatzki said organizers expect 100-200 visitors for the post-pandemic return.
“Palmer Lake really is a village,” he said. “It’s different. It’s not the same as anywhere else. It’s really a destination spot.”