Circle Drive and Historic 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.