Known for its abundance of quaint historic homes, DeFuniak is a charming town with a rich history. The area was initially discovered by a survey team in 1881, whose purpose was to scout a route for the developing railway. The group realized that this haven near the almost perfectly round lake would make an excellent location for a town, and their leader W.D. Chipley decided that the spot be made into a stop along the railway. Chipley, as well as the town’s other founders, began to sell real estate around the lake with the hopes of building a resort in the area.

It was only through pure chance that the founders were able to find the perfect attraction to draw people to the small settlement. While attending the Chautauqua Institution in 1883, W.J. Van Kirk, one of the DeFuniak founders, discovered that the other attendees were hoping to continue the program over the winter. They decided to stay in the sleepy town and eventually formed the Florida Chautauqua Association, which would remain in the area until the mid-1930s. The programs held by the association would bring in thousands of people, helping the budding town grow in size and eventually becoming incorporated into Walton County in 1901. Soon after, other educational bodies began to inhabit the area, including a State Normal School and a university. The region became so pivotal to education that the Florida Education Association was formed in 1886 in response to poor working conditions.

The Chautauqua Association programs remained popular for quite some time, and in 1909, they built a massive auditorium to hold all of the visitors that came to participate. The region had earned itself a name as an educational hotspot, so it’s no surprise that the oldest original library in Florida resides in DeFuniak. Even after the educational programs ended, the town became known for its cultural and ecological contributions to the community. The charming city hosted popular musical festivals each year and eventually became the site of the first Arbor Day in Florida. You may even see some of the first trees planted still growing around the edge of the lake!

 

With its storied past, DeFuniak continues to be a lovely community. Despite drawing in plenty of visitors over time, the town has remained small, giving it a close-knit and welcoming feel. Famous for a plethora of Victorian architecture, this area is an excellent place to live. Whether you prefer going to parks or museums, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy while still being an easy drive to larger cities. With so much to offer, it's no wonder this colorful community is called the “best small town” in Florida!