DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — A new door to local history has opened in Fort Walton Beach.
The U-Haul business that stands at 631 N. Beal Parkway, where the Colonial Inn Restaurant once operated, contained pieces of the Hotel Chautauqua that once stood in DeFuniak Springs.
“When I was in high school, I would vacuum the lounge and the carpets of the restaurant,” said Tom Rice, owner of Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach and an avid local historian. “It was open for several years and changed hands several times before it became the U-Haul place today.”
An old door to the hotel was recently found at the U-Haul building. The door still had the number and lock on it, but the knob was gone.
“I had contacted Walton County historian Diane Merkel and asked about records or pictures" of Hotel Chautauqua, which was later renamed the Walton Hotel, said Rice. “In the process, the U-Haul folks, who were excited about the history of the building, called me up about the door to Room 43.”
Rice took possession of the door, but decided to give it away instead of saving it at his own historic restaurant, which was built in 1910.
“We save a lot of things in our building (Magnolia Grill), but it didn’t fit in our building,” said Rice. “It fits back in Defuniak Springs where it came from.”
Rice called Merkel about the door and then gave it to her to put in the Walton County Heritage Museum in Defuniak Springs.
“We try to keep everything from Walton County at the museum,” said Merkel. “We get a lot of donations. It’s not uncommon for people to donate things to it.”
The door to the former hotel — only a small section of the once large building still stands — will now remain as part of the museum, along with other historic pieces.
“It will be a part of their display with other pieces and parts from that era,” Rice said. “A piece of history came to Fort Walton Beach and now it is a complete circle of history from DeFuniak to the Chautauqua building back to DeFuniak.”