By Denise Mack
Lakeside Hospital was first established in DeFuniak Springs as a clinic by Dr. Ralph Spires in 1938. He was responsible for bringing modern medical practices to this area of Florida when he originally built the clinic and then expanded it in partnership with Dr. Edgar Myers with the addition of a second floor a few years later making it a hospital purportedly with the first elevator installed between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.
Many personnel joined Dr. Spires and Dr. Myers over the years in providing quality medical care. The hospital closed in 1972 when more modern facilities were built in the area. Over the years, the attractive building served a variety of purposes such as dental-medical offices and a family residence.
Unfortunately, the facility fell into disrepair when it was vacated.
In 2013, the original Lakeside Hospital at 1290 Circle Drive was purchased by Florida Chautauqua Association, a nonprofit organization. Every year, the Florida Chautauqua holds a four-day program to bring educational programs and speakers to DeFuniak Springs.
The Assembly program commemorates the early history of the Chautauqua movement in America, which had begun in New York. DeFuniak Springs was the second permanent Chautauqua location, beginning in 1884-1885 and bringing education to rural communities. At its height, more than 3,000 Chautauquas existed throughout the country.
When the Florida Chautauqua moved into the former Lakeside Hospital building, cleanup of the facility and the most needed of repairs were completed thanks to the hard work and dedication of then-president Chris Mitchell, secretary Freida Thibodeau, historian Robert Daniel, chairman Dennis Ray and some dedicated community volunteers.
But time and the ravages of inclement weather have taken a toll on the building, particularly the roof and drainage systems. Despite fundraisers and the small amount of revenue generated from yearly Chautauqua programs, enough money has not been raised to put a new roof on the building.
With an improving economy, Florida’s Department of State has limited available funds for historic preservation, and Florida Chautauqua is in the process of applying for a grant to be able to put a new roof on the former Lakeside Hospital building.
However, state grants have financial requirements. Most communities receiving grants have to raise 50 percent of the money that they are requesting in a grant. DeFuniak Springs is fortunate to be recognized as a REDI community (Rural Economic Development Initiative-eligible county) and only has to raise 10 percent.
Estimates for a new roof, gutters, soffit, fascia, rafter repair and replacement on the building have started to come in, and additional estimates are still being sought. The Special Category Grant that is being written needs to be completed by early June.
Funds to meet the 10 percent threshold are sought to help meet the minimal requirement for the grant. Donations can be made online at gofundme.com/2fxhx7ak, or checks made out to Florida Chautauqua can be dropped off at or mailed to the Little Big Store, located at 35 8th Street. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
For those who would like to take a tour of the building or drop off a check, Florida Chautauqua is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon. Many delight in a visit to the hospital where thousands of babies—now grown adults—were delivered.
Do your part to save this community treasure.
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