DeFuniak Springs - Historic District
Circle Lake and the historic Florida Chautauqua Assembly
Source: Walton County Heritage Association
A walk around Lake DeFuniak is a walk back into Victorian times, when labor and materials were plentiful and elaborate architectural details were incorporated in the homes being built. Turrets, double verandas, classic fluted columns, gingerbread trim, and window dormers all resulted in interesting architecture.
When the railroad began operation in 1882, "Open Pond" was identified as a railroad stop. "Open Pond" soon became known as DeFuniak Springs. It was named "DeFuniak" in honor of Frederick deFuniak, Chief Engineer of the L&N Railroad. "Springs" refers to the almost perfectly round freshwater, spring-fed lake located in the center of town.
Cultural, educational, and religious activities came early when the town was chosen as a winter home for the New York Chautauqua. The Florida Chautauqua program continued from 1885 to 1922 and attracted thousands of visitors to DeFuniak Springs. Programs were held in tents and small buildings near the lake until the Chautauqua "Hall of Brotherhood," with its 4,000 seat auditorium, was built in 1909. The growing town was the home of the State Normal School (c.1885), which moved to Tallahassee in 1905 where it became Florida State College for Women, known today as Florida State University. Other early educational institutions in DeFuniak Springs included Palmer College (1907-1936) and the Thomas Industrial Institute (1913-1924). The Florida Education Association (FEA) was founded in DeFuniak Springs in 1886.
Influence of the Chautauqua movement is very much alive in DeFuniak Springs. In 1996, local residents revived the historic event through the Florida Chautauqua Center, Inc., and the organization hosts the conference-style program during the last week of January. Another organization formed in 2008 called the Florida Chautauqua Assembly, Inc., which also hosts a similar Chautauqua program during February.
Historic District Homes & Buildings
All structures listed below are on the National Register of Historic Places. These homes, buildings and churches are all located on Circle Drive in the historic district of DeFuniak Springs, Florida. This neighborhood rests on the banks of a perfectly round, spring-fed lake called Lake DeFuniak. The structures listed below are in chronological order of address around the lake.
95 Circle Drive - CHAUTAUQUA BUILDING
(c. 1909). Completed in 1909 at a cost of $28,000, the original building had a portico at each end in addition to the three across the front. The porticos were supported by a total of forty columns, representing the forty existing states. The building, topped by the "Lantern of Religious Trust," was called the Hall of Brotherhood. Upstairs, classrooms could be opened up to seat 1,000. An auditorium attached to the back of the building seated 4,000. However, Hurricane Eloise destroyed the auditorium in 1975.
(source: Walton County Heritage Association.)
132 Circle Drive
(c.1900). Prominent citizen and realtor R.E.L. McCaskill sold his property with a small frame structure to W.J. Davis for a family residence in 1914. Davis and subsequent owners have made various modifications to the original frame structure.
144 Circle Drive - ST. AGATHA'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
(c.1896). The church was founded in 1890, and the building was completed in 1896. It is the oldest church building in the city, and its stained glass windows are of special interest.
150 Circle Drive - PARISH HOUSE OF ST. AGATHA'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
(c1900). Now the Parish House of St. Agatha's Episcopal Church, this home served as a boarding house during the Chautauqua Era.