Our History – An Overview
A small group of Chewelah area residents joined together in 1974 to assist “Rainbow“ Emily Touraine, a nationally recognized artist specializing in Native American themes, bring to Chewelah a display of Native American relics, art and ceremonial costumes. Ms.Touraine‘s father, Philip Touraine, was at that time the curator of the Scottsdale, Arizona Museum, and provided many priceless exhibits. The event generated considerable interest and participation by local tribal members and non Indian artists in the area.
The nation was gearing up for the celebration of the Bicentennial in 1976. The Chewelah group which had formed in 1974 decided to incorporate as a non–profit organization and develop a Bicentennial celebration for southern Stevens County.
The name Community Celebrations was chosen and in 1975 the organization filed Articles of Incorporation with the Washington Secretary of State. Community Celebrations also filed for non–profit status with the Department of Internal Revenue and received the IRS 501–C3 designation late in 1975.
In 1975, Community Celebrations organized Bison–tennial I as a celebration of the nation‘s 200th birthday, which would be officially recognized in 1976. Bison–tennial I was a modest success but served as a forerunner of things to come. Bison–tennial II in 1976 was a much larger event which laid out the format which has been carried forward for 40 years.
Following the Bison–tennials, Community Celebrations marked the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the chartering of the Chewelah post office, which also gave the town an official name and spelling of the name for the first time. The Chewelah Centennial was celebrated in 1977.
Chewelah is an Indian word which roughly translates into “little water snakes“. The Indians applied the name to an artesian spring which formed a pond in the general area of the old magnesite plant site. The swirling waters were said to give the impression of many small snakes swimming – hence the name Chewelah. The valley floor was mostly a swamp, and in early spring, the water was deep enough to permit boat traffic to and from the village of Chewelah from the Cottonwood Road area. Small water snakes were also abundant in the valley, which the Indians called “land of little water snakes“, also similar to Chewelah.
In 1978, the name Chataqua was selected for the annual summer celebration. The name was suggested by one of the members who noted that the format most closely resembled the historic “Chautauqua“, the most popular outdoor entertainment in the United States at the turn of the century and lasting until the 1920s. Community Celebrations simplified the spelling to make pronounciation easier and to keep the Chewelah Chataqua distanced from the Chatauqua Society which is still in existence at Lake Chautauqua, New York.
Chautauqua (Chataqua)is an Indian word from tribes, possibly Seneca, in upstate New York, given to a lake. The translations vary, but most agree that the closest is “meeting place in the mist” with reference to tribal gatherings along the lake shore.
The Chautauqua Society formed in the late 1890s and was dedicated to encouraging cultural and educational enrichment for adults. It became hugely popular and eventually Chautauqua took to the road with tents and performers. The Chautauqua Circuit covered rural America bringing entertainment and information to small towns and villages starved for contact with professional actors, performers, musicians and speakers.
In many respects, Chataqua sought to fill a similar need in the rural reaches of Stevens County. Community Celebrations stated goals were to develop, produce, promote and coordinate educational, cultural and recreational activities. A secondary goal was to provide a performing arts facility.
In 1978, the first Chataqua brought quality arts and crafts into the city park, established a tradition of excellent food service and initiated continuous music entertainment. The stage in the park was nothing more than a raised wooden platform. The piano sat unceremoniously in the back of a pickup adjacent to stage. Wooden bleachers were hauled in from the foot ball field, but many sat on the grass or in lawn chairs carried from home.
The need for a permanent outdoor stage was obvious. In 1981, Community Celebrations, working with the City of Chewelah, funded and completed the first phase of an outdoor pavilion. The cement stage would serve alone for two years until funding could be raised to finish the structure. In 1984, with a grant of $20,000 from the Alcoa Foundation, the CenterStage Pavilion was completed and dedicated to the City of Chewelah. The total cost of the building was approximately $80,000, paid for from proceeds from Chataqua and other fund raising activities held by Community Celebrations over a period of several years. Permanent seating was the next phase. Local contractors Tom and John Steinbach, engineered and constructed cement seating for 800 spectators. The work was funded by Community Celebrations, with assistance in site preparation donated by the City. The Alcoa Foundation granted the organization $10,000 to complete the construction. The seating is considered to be state–of–the–art, and the innovative design has brought other designers and engineers to Chewelah to see how the cement structure was done.
Since its inception, Community Celebrations has stepped forward to help bring new activities to the community. The annual Halloween Parade was organized by this group. The Festival of Lights is another annual activity. The Half–Century Bicycle Tour was started under the auspices of Community Celebrations as a part of Chataqua and has now been rescheduled to coincide with Columbus Day. As a result of Community Celebrations serving as a coordinator for Washington State Centennial activities in Chewelah, the Trail Drive of the Century for antique cars came to Chewelah in 1989 and the Chokes & Spokes Old Car Club of Colville has elected to return to Chewelah for their Nostalgia Days event each year since. Community Celebrations helps to coordinate the activities in Chewelah.
Community Celebrations financially contributes to the Chewelah Community Float, provides a scholarship for the Young Woman of the Year and donates money to worthwhile community projects. The organization has provided bicycle racks and park benches and is proposing to fund the construction of a third bridge in the park.
A long-range goal was to develop a Performing Arts Center and Community Celebrations supports The Chewelah Performing and Cultural Arts Center with their new building.
Funding for a building is in the research stage.
CULTURAL & ENTERTAINMENT PROJECTS SINCE COMMUNITY CELEBRATIONS WAS FOUNDED:
Town–wide display of Indian art, crafts, relics and ceremonial gowns ($500,000 value of display) provided by Rainbow Touraine, celebrated artist. Also local artists/crafters set up displays in downtown streets and sidewalks. (1974)
Bison–tennial celebration (1975) with art,music in the park.
Bison–tennial II (1976) with more art, crafts and music in the park
Centennial Celebration (Chewelah) with art, crafts and music in the park. Also in association with the Inland Empire Railway Historical Society, a display of model trains, diaramas, locomotives, films, historical data and photos. Commemorating the establishment of the village of Chewelah and the chartering of the Post Office in that year was a historical pageant written by Dr.Daniel Stein, noted playwright.
Chataqua (1978 – the present)has brought to the park and to CenterStage quality art, craftwork and music performances. Also special events from time to tL e which included:
Wenatchee Youth Circus (two times) International Logging Show
Michael Paul – Native American totem carver Spokane Tribal Dancers
Western Art Show
Hot Air Balloon (Three years) Radio Controlled Airplane Show
Airplane flights over the Colville Valley Ultra–light aircraft show
Muzzleloader Rendezvous & Shooting Competition
Commemorative program honoring returning veterans of the Persian Gulf and all veterans
Annual selection and award ceremony for an Honored Citizen of the Year
Fishing Derby (4 years) Fun Run (Annually)Volksmarch (4 years)
Centennial (State)Wagon Train Tour Half–Century Bicycle Tour (4 years)
The One–Reel Vaudeville Show (two years) Fine Art Exhibit
Horse Playday & Gymkhana Golf Tournament (annual)
Baseball & Softball Tournaments (Annual) Antique & Classic Car Road Rally/Display Square Dance Festival (Annual)
u.S.Air Force Concert Band – Full performance at C.enterStage Pavilion Laura Spitzer, Concert Pianist – Two performances at Civic Center
Music in the Park Series – Five evening performances – Summer 1991
Festival of Lights – Annually provides holiday lighting and decoration in the park, downtown and encourages residential lighting displays. Coordinates Breakfast With Santa, Santa‘s Cottage and other holiday activities from Thanksgiving through Christmas.