Yesterday, just on a whim, I trundled off to Sac City, IA to visit their famous Chautauqua Building. Josh and his Uncle Paul and I are going to be playing a little show there in a couple of weeks, and I decided I wanted to see what the place looked like. I hauled my camera along because I was looking for a photo to post to advertise the show, and I really didn’t feel like forcing anyone to look at my ugly mug as an incentive to visit the music. ;)
If you don’t know about this Chautauqua business, here’s the deal: It’s a movement started by a Methodist preacher, named for the lake in New York state at which the first meetings were held, that promoted education and entertainment for adults (and for communities more broadly) back in the late 1800s. Great speakers, great thinkers, great performers, great preachers — they all got together in tents (on a travelling circuit) and in dedicated buildings for the purpose of bringing people together and improving their minds and souls. The radio and other mass media via electronic transmission effectively killed the movement, but there are still Chautauqua buildings and sites and parks all over the country (see, for example, Boulder CO, which is still actively running major events).
The Chautauqua Building in Sac City was built in the early 1900s. It was later refurbished and rededicated — the interior window coverings are actually a series of cloth-backed murals depicting the towns of Sac County. It’s a huge, fascinating space, still in regular use in the community. Its ceiling is a lofty tribute to engineering in wood, and it somehow manages to be both homey and impressive at the same time.
The building itself remains rustic. It’s not a tech-heavy performance space. There’s an elevated stage (complete with flags, a mobile podium, and a lovely old upright piano), but there’s no complex light rigging or evident sound system. It’s just space, dedicated and waiting and intimate in its simplicity.
The whole park is fascinating — and so is the historical museum, which I simply didn’t have time enough to visit. I got some other shots of the building and the shelter house and grounds. Such a lovely day!