Defuniak Springs Florida

History of Defuniak Springs

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Chautauqua hall of Brotherhood

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History of Defuniak Springs, Florida


The town was founded by the officers of the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad, a subsidiary of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The P&A Railway was organized to connect the terminus of the L&N near Pensacola to the western terminus of the Seaboard Railroad at River Junction -- now Chattahoochee -- in the 1880s. It was named after Frederick R. DeFuniak, the president of the L&N. Like much of Northwest Florida, DeFuniak Springs was settled mainly by Scots from Virginia and the Carolinas.

DeFuniak Springs was established as a final-destination resort, and the developers enlisted the cooperation and aid of the Chautauqua Movement. The Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood, an auditorium seating 4,000, was constructed on Lake DeFuniak in the center of town. Seminars, classes, and the like were held in the Hall of Brotherhood building for people on vacation. The auditorium of the building was severely damaged by Hurricane Eloise in 1975 and razed, although a charitable foundation, The Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood Foundation, Inc., has undertaken a capital campaign for the historic restoration of the building. The Westerly portion of the building facing Circle Drive is still in use.

As part of the intellectual atmosphere of the town, a college and a private high school (named Palmer College and Palmer Academy, respectively), as well as a technical school (Thomas Industrial Institute) and a teacher training school (Florida Normal College) were established in the 19th century. Florida Normal College was incorporated into Florida State University, while the other schools closed during the Great Depression. There remains a College Avenue that once led to Palmer College.

As demonstrated through the Chautauqua movement, many residents of DeFuniak Springs have always had an active hand in education. In 1886, De Funiak Springs held an important meeting that forever changed the course of public education in Florida. At this meeting, teachers around the state formed the Florida Education Association (FEA). This teacher's union remains the state's predominant voice for educators and is affiliated with the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

The town also contains various other historically significant landmarks. Near the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood building is the Walton County Library on Circle Drive, the oldest existing, operatin library in the state of Florida. The library contains an interesting assortment of antiquities, including an impressive medieval weapon collection and many first-edition books. First Presbyterian Church is the only private structure in the Lake Yard, the park surrounding the lake. Also situated on Circle Drive is St. Agatha's Episcopal Church, built in 1895-1896. Although Walton County was opposed to secession, the first monument to the Confederate war dead constructed in Florida is located on the lawn of the Walton County Court House.

Sidney Johnston Catts, 22nd governor of Florida from 1917 to 1921, first candidate to campaign the state by automobile, Prohibition Party affiliation. Catts was a lawyer and preacher, having served as the pastor of First Baptist Church prior to his run for governor.
Former professional baseball player and manager Buck Showalter was born in DeFuniak Springs on May 23, 1956.
American fashion model Amanda Moore graduated from Walton High School in DeFuniak Springs in 1997
PGA golfer Sammy Rachels, native of DeFuniak Springs, was born in 1950.
Ina Thompson was appointed Commissioner of the Florida Motor Vehicle Commission by Leroy Collins, the 33rd Governor of Florida. At the time of her appointment she was the first woman ever named to an office of that rank in Florida Government.

As of the census of 2000, there were 5,089 people, 2,105 households, and 1,324 families residing in the city. The population density was 464.0 people per square mile (179.1/km²). There were 2,464 housing units at an average density of 224.7/sq mi (86.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 71.78% White, 22.99% African American, 1.00% Native American, 0.51% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 1.81% from other races, and 1.83% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.30% of the population.

There were 2,105 households, out of which 27.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.7% were married couples living together, 18.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.1% were non-families. 33.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.91.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.6% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 24.4% from 25 to 44, 22.2% from 45 to 64, and 21.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 84.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 78.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $24,516, and the median income for a family was $28,750. Males had a median income of $24,219 versus $19,255 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,298. About 18.2% of families and 18.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.6% of those under age 18 and 9.3% of those age 65 or over.


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