Lakeside Building (formerly Lakeside Hospital) on Circle Drive in the Historic District of DeFuniak Springs, is now the new headquarters of the Florida Chautauqua Center. The 11,372 square foot two-story brick building will be preserved and used by organizers of the official, annual Florida Chautauqua Assembly to organize future assemblies, to exhibit relics from the original assemblies dating from 1885 to 1927, to provide space for other cultural activities, and to provide space for continued education and learning throughout the year.
Dennis Ray, chairman of the Board of the Florida Chautauqua Center, along with wife Brenda, and the organization’s founder Diane Pickett, coordinated the collection of no-interest loans to purchase the building.
“We felt it was time to catapult the recent success and growth of the revived Assemblies,” said Dennis Ray. “The event has grown tremendously just since 2008 when Christopher Mitchell became president and started bringing such high profile speakers to DeFuniak Springs like Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Karl Rove, Naomi Tutu, Jenna Bush-Hager and Céline Cousteau. Attendance has jumped from 6,000 in 2008 to 15,000 this year. That rate of growth and celebration of our local history by a national audience requires a large facility to keep this event and our history alive for generations to come. We’re proud to be able to coordinate such an effort with such a huge impact on our future.”
Christopher Mitchell, president of the Florida Chautauqua Center, says he can now plan for larger assemblies including a continued quality faculty.
“We now have a place to bring our famous speakers and faculty members during the historic assembly,” he said, “and we now have enough space for offices and coordinators of seminars and presentations throughout the year leading up to the next great event.”
Mitchell said the Florida Chautauqua Center has collected relics from the Wallace Bruce Family that need an exhibition location.
“Through the tireless efforts of our historian, Robert Daniel, we’ve collected such items as the string bass used by a famous orchestra during the original assemblies, as well as the ceremonial trowel of the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood, a portrait of Wallace Bruce (the longest-serving president of the original assemblies) and original writings of Bruce, who also served as U.S. Consul to Scotland and was a friend of Robert Todd Lincoln.”
Florida Chautauqua Center leaders say they plan to restore and preserve many elements of the old hospital.
“We don’t plan to tear out hospital room walls or rip out some of the antique medical elements which give the old hospital such character,” said Ray. “We want to celebrate our community’s past by preserving the historical integrity of this interesting building while promoting the history of the Florida Chautauqua. We see this acquisition as a win-win for our community and those who will be leading us into the future with increased tourism and educational growth.”
Florida Chautauqua officials say they will lean on the community for help with contributions of furniture, refrigerators, stoves and other amenities which will make the building useful for meetings, seminars and other educational programming.
“We can use all of the help we can get,” said Mitchell. “We need volunteers, cleanup crews, Christmas decorations, just to name a few things we really need.”