The Tivoli Historical Society is the midst of a restoration project to the Tivoli Gym that is expected to be complete next spring.

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County’s oldest African-American gymnasium will soon reopen as a public state-of-the-art facility.


Built in 1960, the Tivoli Gym sits on Thomas Avenue and is more than just a recreational building. It’s an important part of history in Northwest Florida, said Eddie Williamson, president of the Tivoli Historical Society.


“This is the oldest gymnasium for black kids that was built west of the Choctawhatchee (River) for a long time,” he said “(Restoring it) is going to be a real game-changer. ... It will help to revitalize the entire community.”


The Tivoli Historical Society, which is spearheading the project, is a nonprofit organization founded in 2008. It is made up of nearly 20 members — all of whom attended Tivoli High School before it closed in 1969.


The school is one of five African-American schools built in Walton County with federal money after the Civil War. It, along with the Tivoli Museum, are found within the Tivoli Complex located on Park Street. The area is now used as administrative buildings for the Walton County School District.


According to the organization’s website, the school officially opened in 1912 and was used as an elementary school until becoming a high school in 1935. It closed years later as a result of desegregation.


“The gym and the Tivoli Museum are two places that we hope will shine as a beacon in the African-American community in the future, but will be open for all people,” the website said.


The gym is expected to reopen next spring. Funding for the restoration project has come from entities including Walton County, the Walton County School District and the St. Joe Company.


Once complete, the gym will provide a public basketball, volleyball and kickball court, as well as a place to host activities.


“When people hear that we’re restoring the Tivoli Gym, they’re thinking basketball,” said Victoria Crystal, spokeswoman for the group. “That’s not what this is about. ... We intend to (also) use the gym as a learning center for children and adults. We also hope to have mentors to help guide our youth into becoming societal assets.”


She hoped the amenity would attract younger generations to carry on the group’s mission.


“We’re really trying to work as a unit (with surrounding organizations, including the Walton County Sheriff’s Office) in order to revitalize not only that gymnasium, but also the whole community” Williamson said.


About $150,000 has already been raised for the project, but funds are still needed to complete the building’s air-conditioning system.


Donations for the project can be mailed to the Tivoli Historical Society at P.O. Box 1598, DeFuniak Springs, Florida 32435.


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