DeFUNIAK SPRINGS (Walton County)
Florida's Chautauqua Retreat
Defuniak Springs is the capital of Walton County and a small village in the rolling hillside of Panhandle Florida. It was mainly an area of small farms settled by a large population of Scots-Irish from Virginia and the Carolinas. The town was formed in the 1880's by officers of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad which connected Chattahoochee to the main Louisvlle and Nashville line at Pensacola. Frederick R. DeFuniak was a Vice-President of the L&N.
Looking for a way to make the railroad depot at DeFuniak Springs more of a destination location, the railroad met with the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood to build a winter Chautauqua center on Lake DeFuniak. Dr. A. H. Gillet of the New York Chautauqua decided to hold his 1885 winter meeting in Florida. Within a year trains were bringing in conventions of followers from as far away as Chicago. Many supporters of the movement discovered that Walton County would be a good winter headquarters and large houses were soon built around the Lake.
The oldest public library was started here and the town once had two colleges - Palmer College and Florida Normal College for teachers, which was incorporated into Florida State University.At a meeting here in 1886 a group of educators started the Florida Education Association.
TOURING DeFUNIAK SPRINGS is easily reached from I-10 on the east-west route and on FL 331 from the beach towns on the Gulf of Mexico. If you reach the Lake, you can part at the 1909 CHAUTAUQUA AUDITORIUM which lost part of the complex in the 1980's in a hurricane.� The Walton County Chamber of Commerce is at 95 Circle Drive and has material on the city and the entire county.
You can drive around the Lake on Circle Drive, but on a nice day, you'll appreciate the setting if you walk around the Lake. We will go counter-clockwise to go with the street numbers. The main sights not by the lake are the 1890 MARY KINCON HOUSE at 301 South 11th Street at West Avenue, two blocks off the circle, and the 1886 GOVERNOR SIDNEY J. CATTS HOUSE at 30 West Live Oak Avenue and US331.� The latter is a colorful two-story mansion with an octagonal tower and double porches. It was built originally for a Wisconsin businessman AND "Sunbright Manor" is listed as the most haunted house in town.
As you travel around the Lake you will see at 66 Circle Drive the 1907 BURRIS CAWTHON HOUSE, a Queen Anne with an octagonal tower and large Doric pillars on the porch. The oldest, continuous library in Florida is the 1887 WALTON DeFUNIAK LIBRARY at 100 Circle Drive with an original space of 24 feet by 16 feet.
The ST. AGATHA'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH (1896) at 144 Circle Drive has a neat square Norman tower and Giesler stained glass windows. The real gem, however, is the mahogany pipe organ inside the structure. The narrow frame-house with gingerbread trim at 168 Circle Drive is the 1907 CHARLES E. MURRAY HOUSE and it contrasts with all the neighborhood's Victorian mansions. More common is the 1900 three story Queen Anne BULLARD HOUSE at 188 Circle Drive.
There are great sleeping porches at the two story WALTER GRAVES HOUSE at 208 West Circle Drive. He was a noted local lumberman.
The HONEYMOON COTTAGE (1885), at 232 Circle Drive, is a board and battan Victorian cottage. The brick house at 262 Circle Drive is called THE VERANDAS with its huge magnolia trees.
The most photographed house along the circle is probably THE DREAM COTTAGE (1888), at 404 Circle Drive. It is a Gothic stick chalet house built by Wallace Bruce, an Ambassador to Scotland and a chautauqua leader. His son Kenneth Bruce built the classic Southern mansion complete with Doric columns at 550 CIRCLE DRIVE.
The French colonial style of the McLEAN HOUSE at 676 Circle Drive is different and seems to be the location where photographers take sunsets over the Lake photographs. Simply Neo-Classical is the double balconied STUART KNOX GILLIS HOUSE at 772 Circle Drive. He was the President of Palmer College which was once located down nearby College Avenue.
TERVIN'S TARA (1903) at 812 Circle Drive is perhaps the largest mansion on the Lake with 5,500 square feet, four bathrooms, and at least nine fireplaces. You can see the inside stairway if the curtains are open.
To complete your tour visit the WALTON COUNTY HERITAGE MUSEUM located in the old L&N Train Depot at 1140 Circle Drive.