A divine reminder of the original Chautauqua
One of the key aspects of the Chautauqua movement and rural life throughout America was the deep-rooted belief and worship of God. But at the founding of DeFuniak Springs, there was no formal church established. This all changed as the Baptist, Christian, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Universalist Churches were all founded during the latter part of the 19th century. At the corner of Circle Drive and West Avenue, you can see two of the six original churches of DeFuniak Springs.
Saint Agatha’s Episcopal Church was founded by the Right Reverend Edwin G. Weed of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida and three local families of DeFuniak Springs. These families formed the foundation for St. Agatha’s Episcopal Church. Early on, services were held in a private residence, where their first baptism is reported to have taken place in 1890. By 1895, the congregation knew a formal church building needed to be constructed. A Carpenter Gothic Architectural design was settled on and construction began.
During Easter of 1895, although unfinished, the women of the mission wanted services in the unfinished building. It is said that the men of the church refused sighting the church had not yet been consecrated and no men in the parish had yet been licensed as lay readers to conduct services. Not to be deterred, the women took matters into their own hands. They decorated the church with spring foliage and bight flowers to provide a space for Morning Prayer. The women of the church conducted the entire service, a responsibility not formally given to women until much later in history. St. Agatha’s opened seasonally from 1896 to 1910 and was served by traveling clergy as they came to the area. Throughout its existence, the church has had only a few full-time priests, but the congregation is very active in serving the community through a variety of missions. In the recent past, Saint Agatha’s has made significant strides in restoration efforts of the original sanctuary and the Parrish House, both inside and out and on December 9th, 2007 both buildings were rededicated. Following this success, the membership purchased the Charles E. Murray House in 2011. Mr. Murray was a prominent man of DeFuniak Springs. He owned a merry-go-round, the first theater in downtown and much of Baldwin Avenue between 8th and 9th streets. In 2017, the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast established a School of Ministry in the historic home. St. Agatha’s is the oldest church building in the city.
On the north side of West and Circle sits the First United Methodist Church of DeFuniak Springs. In 1887, the Methodist Episcopal Church, Northern Branch, was founded and the first church building was erected just to the right of the current church location.
Unfortunately, this building burned and was replaced in 1901with a beautiful large frame wooden building in the same location as the brick building of today. The original church had Sunday School rooms and a Sanctuary separated by folding wooden doors that could be opened fully to accommodate a large seating area for special meetings. Soon after, in 1905, a white wood framed clergy house was built adjacent to the church where the original church had burned. In 1907, the Southern Branch merged with the Northern Branch and the First United Methodist Church of DeFuniak Springs was formed. In 1967, the city of DeFuniak Springs lost a great treasure when it was decided that the historic building should be demolished in order to build a new brick structure with “more room and functionality”. As you stand here today, imagine the beauty of this corner has held with the original Methodist Church. Now open your eyes to see the beauty still held hear in original glory with the Hall of Brotherhood and St. Agatha’s Episcopal Church.