Forward DeFuniak, Inc. and Historic Preservation

by Melinda C. Henderson, PhD, Executive Director

National Preservation Month Spotlight

            Forward DeFuniak, Inc. was founded in 2017 as a 501c3 organization.  Among its five purposes, and most significant for Historic Preservation Month, is the commitment to preserve and capitalize the area’s unique history and cultural assets.

            The organization is interested in historic preservation and in maintaining the unique atmosphere of the entire historic district. The heritage of the Chautauqua Era and the entire historic district can serve as an incubator for the development of cultural and heritage tourism.

            Forward DeFuniak is interested in the area’s return as the cultural and educational center of the South.  If properly developed, heritage tourism, cultural events and educational offerings can add to the economic vitality of the region, while preserving historic buildings as well as the small-town atmosphere.

            To achieve the above goals, the organization sponsored “The Flight of Jackie Cochran.”  This one-woman play was written by local playwright, Nancy Hasty. She also played the main character, a famous aviatrix, with roots in DeFuniak Springs. All proceeds were donated toward restoration of the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood. Attendees experienced aviation history via Jackie Cochran.  Members have also assisted grant writers as Main Street was realized, the historic plaques around the lake were realized, and as another historic building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

            Since 2019, Forward DeFuniak and the City of DeFuniak Springs have been in partnership to submit a nomination for the Chautauqua Campus/Area to be designated as a National Historic Landmark.  After much research and planning, a core work group (representative of the city, of Forward DeFuniak and of knowledgeable community members) hired a consultant historian firm from Tallahassee.  They will begin work April 1, 2022.  This summer they will be researching and writing history statements, surveying all the buildings in the historic district (including outbuildings) and getting the nomination document ready for a fall presentation to the National Historic Commission. The Commission is composed of nationally recognized historians, architects, archeologists, etc.  If they deem the nomination of the area as worthy of landmark status, all the documents, maps and surveys will be forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior.  That office will make the final decision on whether all criteria to be designated as a National Historic Landmark have indeed been met.  If this effort is successfully completed, the Chautauqua Campus/Area will hold the highest designation that the government can bestow on a historic area. A true honor.

            Forward DeFuniak, Inc. has many other projects and ideas that relate to the organization’s other four goals (encouraging greater civic participation among citizens, advocating for solutions to area issues and concerns, supporting efforts that improve the economic vitality of our area, and serving as a resource bank for expertise, volunteers, and assistance in obtaining funds).  Anyone interested in making the area a better place to live, work or visit may join Forward DeFuniak which is non-partisan. You need not live in the city. There are no dues.  Most of the members are e-mail or phone members.  They come, write, or call when items on the meeting agendas are of interest them.  They answer calls to volunteer when they can and, most important, they share ideas and expertise that may make the area even better.

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