LS: History Here and Now September 19, 2008
Grand Junction’s first Chautauqua was in July of 1916
A week before the first Chautauqua in Grand Junction in July 1916, The Daily Sentinel reported that if not enough tickets were sold the Chautauqua would not return the following year.
Sentinel Publisher Walter Walker, along with 20 other businessmen, had compiled enough money to bring the Chautauqua to town. These were not just Grand Junction businessmen — they were from the surrounding areas as well.
By July 3, 1916, 600 tickets had been sold, but 400 more had to sell to ensure that the businessmen who had put up the $2,500 needed for the event were repaid. Later stories confirmed that enough tickets had been sold, and plans for the event continued. Tickets were $2.50 and transferable only among family members.
A story a few days later stated that James H.Rankin had been placed in charge of putting up the 80-by-120-foot tent. The tent faced south on White Avenue, with the stage in the center on the north side so that every seat was a good one. The tent floor was covered with sawdust and there were vents to keep the crowd cool on the hottest of days.
The Chautauqua, a sort of variety show, was meant to be inspirational and uplifting. The music was often lighter classical and family-oriented, with the “racier stuff” left to vaudeville. The first Chautauqua was held in 1874 at Chautauqua Lake in New York state. Chautauquas remained popular entertainment until the mid-1920s.
The scheduled performers at the Grand Junction event were Sam Shildkret’s Hungarian Orchestra, George C. Aydelott, Dr. M.D. Harden, and a musical concert by Marion and Trevette. The Schubert musical group, ex-Congressman Adam J. Bede, Julius Caesar Nayphe, Sam Bellino and Noah Beilharz also were among the scheduled performers. Others were Thavius’ band, Alfred Hiles Bergen and Ethel Hinton. Other crowd pleasers were Gov. Robert B. Glenn of North Carolina and The Hayden Chorus.
The Chautauqua ran for seven days, with the biggest hit being the performance of “Melting Pot,” which drew 2,000 people to the big tent on Friday, July 14.
Gladys Brainerd of Grand Junction must have been especially pleased when her friend Estelle Franklin Gray gave a violin recital at the Chautauqua on July 13. The two had been fellow students in Berlin before the war.
By Sunday, July 9, the Sentinel was reporting that “The Chautauqua is almost the sole subject of conversation about the streets and in the homes. It has completely filled the city with enthusiasm and there is no topic so familiar as “Did you hear the orchestra?” “Wasn’t Harden convincing?” or “Will you hear Belliuo tonight?”
The Interurban railway system, which traveled from the Lower Valley to Grand Junction, ran an ad offering reduced rates during Chautauqua: The ad read: “One fare for round trip from all points in the Lower Valley. The one-fare rate is good every day of the Chautauqua and on every car.”
Daily Sentinel readers on one Sunday morning were warned that ticket rules must be obeyed. Apparently two women had been caught the night before giving their husbands’ tickets to two people outside the family. A warning was issued that in
the future those caught giving their tickets to non-family members would have their tickets confiscated.
Soon after the last performance, the big tent was taken down, and the performers continued on with the Chautauqua circuit. But the excitement of the event did not leave town. For several years it remained popular in Grand Junction.
You can enjoy the renewed excitement of the Chautauqua at the Cross Orchards Historic Site today and Saturday. Check out the schedule at http://www.tworiverschautauqua.com/schedule.html
Kathy Jordan has learned a lot about local history as a member of the Mesa County Historical Society. She is the author of “Heart of the City: North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.”