Thursday, January 31, 2013

DeFuniak Springs, Florida

I lived in Florida for 18 years. Before that, I read a chapter about it in the Reader's Digest's book, America From the Road, entitled 'A Land Like No Other'. If you're a writer, you've no doubt heard of the importance of "the hook". Well, I was hooked by that title, and once I moved there, by Florida. I read about it voraciously and made it my goal to visit every corner of that strangely shaped state. One place that always intrigued me was DeFuniak Springs, in the panhandle, between Pensacola and Tallahassee. At the time, I lived eight or nine hours away, in Ft. Lauderdale. I tried to visit DeFuniak Springs several times, but something always happened to prevent me.

  Perhaps that intrigue stemmed from its claim of being the home of one of only two perfectly round lakes in the world, the Victorian homes that line it, or the area's rich history, including the fact that it was the winter home of the Chautauqua movement from 1885 to the early 1900's. People from all over America converged there by train, paid a gate fee and attended keynote speeches and sessions relating to art, education, recreation and religion. 

Today, only a handful of Chautauqua communities are left, but the idea of Chautauqua is experiencing a rebirth. The North Carolina mountain town of Andrews, 20 minutes from my home, hosts Chautauqua Andrews twice a year, which I've enjoyed attending several times. 

DeFuniak Springs Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood on Circle Drive
Devotees have put together the Chautauqua Trail of towns, including DeFuniak Springs, home of Florida Chautauqua, to help people find them.

Hotel DeFuniak and Bogey's Restaurant

Finally, I was successful in visiting DeFuniak Springs, and I enjoyed it as much as I had hoped I would. I booked a room at the Hotel DeFuniak, which terms itself a small boutique hotel, and has received 4&1/2 stars from TripAdvisor reviewers, earning it their "Seal of Excellence". Well deserved, I might add.
Hotel DeFuniak lobby
After fortifying myself with the delicious full breakfast that was included in the moderate room rate, which I enjoyed in the charming dining room that is attached to both the hotel lobby and Bogey's Restaurant, the venue for the excellent dinner that I enjoyed the night of my arrival, I set out to explore.

My first stop was at the Visitors Center, where I picked up a Walking Tour of historic Circle Drive brochure, listing 39 buildings and homes of interest around the lake. 

I had brought my bicycle with me, anticipating rides on the flat terrain of Florida, and I was not disappointed here. I enjoyed the sun, balmy breezes and birdsong as I happily pedaled along, with a few stops to take photos.

650 Circle Drive, built for Judge Angus Graham Campbell, c 1905

Magnolia Grandiflora, with a spreading crown of 72 feet, the 8th largest of Florida's champion trees

Plantation style house
Brick house and oak tree
At 3 Circle Drive, stands the Walton-DeFuniak Library, the oldest structure in Florida built as a library and still serving that purpose.

In the 1880's, Wallace Bruce, who moved to DeFuniak Springs around 1890, was the ambassador to Scotland and lived in Edinburgh. His son, Kenneth, began collecting European armor, which is housed in the library. Some of the pieces date back as far as the Crusades (1100-1300 AD). Sadly,I was "foiled" in my attempt to see the collection. The librarian told me that they had closed that part of the library until they could get the bat infestation there under control! I had to console myself by enjoying the library's reading garden.

Too soon, I had to leave DeFuniak Springs for my next stop, Madison, Florida. Next time, I hope to stay longer and to see that armor collection. If you go, you might consider picking up these guidebooks:

Scenic Driving Florida, by Jan Annino Godown, and
Off the Beaten Path Florida, a guide to unique places, by Diana & Bill Gleaner, 
both of which can be ordered through our local vendor, Curiosity Shop Bookstore.

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