WAXAHACHIE

City and community leaders celebrated a new level of protection for a Waxahachie cultural asset, the Chautauqua Auditorium, on Thursday afternoon. The 116-year-old auditorium received an upgrade to its fire sprinkler system.

Kirk Hunter, Chautauqua Preservation Society President, stated the fire protection system would help preserve this piece of the city’s history for future generations.

“Our biggest fear was the possibility of a fire, and if something happened to this building, it would be gone in a heartbeat. We all feel very fortunate that it is standing here,” Hunter said. “Not only is the auditorium one of the treasures to the city, it is also a reminder to our city’s important connection to the historic Chautauqua movement in the early 20th century as well as to current the Chautauqua movement that is going on today all over the country.”

Hunter added the auditorium is the last known Chautauqua in Texas and one of just a handful preserved across the country.

The Waxahachie Chautauqua website states the Chautauqua movement originated at Lake Chautauqua, New York in 1874. Each year for its first 31 years, the Waxahachie Chautauqua Summer Encampment and Assembly provided two weeks of education, culture, art, and recreation to the community. The assembly was revived in 2000.

The Waxahachie Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone Board supplied the funds for the $290,000 project. Before the work began, Architexas was brought on board to design the system so it could blend into the building's existing architecture. The firm previously worked with city officials on the restoration of the historic Ellis County Courthouse in 2002. Work on the sprinkler system took about eight months to complete.

Mayor Pro Tem David Hill stated his great uncle spent a few weeks at the original Chautauqua in 1884 in New York. He shared being able to preserve the building is unique to him because of the family connection.

Waxahachie Assistant Fire Chief Randall Potter stated the new sprinkler system would help to ensure the building's continued presence in the community.

“This is just a fantastic day for the city and the Chautauqua because we have a fantastic suppression system in here now,” Potter said. “Whoever headed up (the initiative), thank you for getting that going and getting it started.”

Albert Lawrence, assistant city manager, stated the efforts to continue to preserve this cultural resource is going to continue into the future.

“We are going to keep improving the building because we want it to be a vital resource for our community,” Lawrence said. “We have more plans for the future to make things better to support our events here and to make it more useful and comfortable for the people that use it.”