When the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood was erected in 1904, DeFuniak became the cultural center of the entire South. There was nothing in Atlanta, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Nashville or anywhere else in the South that could rival its 4,000 seat auditorium with a stage seating 100 performers. It was fully steam heated with electric dissolving lights. There was additional space upstairs to accommodate multiple conferences and classes, creating a perfect venue. During its heyday, DeFuniak was one of the most educated and cultured communities in the entire nation.
We need to re-capture that title and move our community forward by restoring our signature building and once again host conferences, entertainment and enlightenment. Even after the Chautauqua closed in the early part of the 20th century, The Hall of Brotherhood continued to be used for community events. Statewide band contests were held in that building as well dances and political rallies. During WW II, that location was a beehive of support and gratitude for our troops and served as an active USO. Many of the hostesses were from farm families who simply walked from their country homes to town in order to help serve the coffee and doughnuts that were standard in every USO around the world. Gasoline, tires and automobiles were in short supply during this time, making for many long walks and weary feet by the time they arrived, but the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood remained their beacon.
Former DeFuniak Springs Mayor John Angus McDonald announced his candidacy for the Florida Senate from the floor of that building, which saw many other political rallies, both local and state. Since Walton High owned no gymnasium at the time, the Chautauqua building served in its place as a youth center for dances as well as a gym. Coaches taught strength training, boxing and wrestling combined with a basketball court which served adequately until the hurricane disaster of l975. That event blew out the back of the auditorium and severely damaged the entire structure. Many of our current senior citizens will remember with fondness the great fun of bobbing for apples at the annual Halloween carnivals held there. I was among them.
It has been a campaign of paint and patch since that time. The community was fortunate in recently receiving a grant appropriation of almost $500,000, but that is only a part of the story. The cost of the complete restoration and re-building of the auditorium is a staggering amount that cannot be covered by this grant.
In an effort to support that project, DeFuniak Springs Landmarks, a non-profit organization, will host a pig roast on Saturday, March 17 with 100 percent of all ticket sales going toward the Chautauqua Hall building restoration. This is the fourth annual Pig Roast to be held at 676 Circle Drive from 3-8 p.m. and features a St. Patrick’s Day theme with an Irish menu and beverages together with an Irish costume contest. The winner will receive dinner for two at the Tropicana Restaurant at Hotel Defuniak. Also featured is a live auction as well as a silent action. So bring your checkbook or cash for some wonderful items. There will be entertainment throughout the day with an Irish flair
Tickets are $40 in advance and available at most downtown merchants. Based on availability, tickets will be $45 at the door.