Directly following the inaugural Florida Chautauqua Assembly, during the winter of 1886 an organization of women formed the “Aid Society” in DeFuniak Springs. Their mission was to welcome the many newcomers who were attracted to our small railroad town by the opening of the Florida Chautauqua the previous year. By early summer in 1887, this energetic group of women began focusing on a much-needed service. It had become apparent that the town lacked a library to provide reference material for the community at the Florida Chautauqua and to furnish recreational reading material for winter visitors. The Aid Society members each pledged $1 to buy books for a new library. Naturally, one of the first requirements the society identified was an adequate building to house their newly purchased books.
The Aide Society officially changed their name to the Ladies Library Association and promptly raised $579.80 to build the original one-room building. On December 20, 1887, the library opened its doors for the first time to the community and visitors of DeFuniak Springs, Florida.
Now, once their task of opening the library was done, the Ladies continued once again with their original mission to welcome newcomers as they traveled from all parts of the country to the Florida Chautauqua. But now, they were able to host socials, teas and other weekly entertainment at their library, giving them the opportunity to introduce everyone to this newly build gift to the town.
It is said that the Ladies of the Library took a hands-on approach to everything they did. This included being volunteer librarians for the first 15 years until, in 1902, Alice Fellows, a volunteer librarian herself, became the first paid librarian. Miss Fellows filled the position of librarian for the DeFuniak Public Library for 30 years. She was paid a very minimal salary but refused every raise offered to her. Alice said she worked because of her love of books and serving her community. By all accounts, Miss Fellows was diligent and persistent in all her duties, especially in keeping all questionable books out of the library. Today, a commissioned portrait of Miss Alice Fellows is proudly displayed inside the library in honor and remembrance of her steadfast service to the people of DeFuniak Springs.
Throughout the 130 plus years of service to DeFuniak Springs, the library has undergone several additions, each skillfully blending new construction with the original architecture. Today, our library is as quaint and charming as the original one room, white painted wooden building commissioned by thoughtful women so long ago. The original building is simply marked with one word – “Library”, and an “Established 1886” sign hanging proudly at the door. The Library’s State Historical Marker proclaims the structure to be “the oldest structure in Florida built as a library and still serving that purpose”. But if you take the time to step inside, you will find this beautiful little building is so much more. So before you continue your journey through our town, take a few moments to peak inside and explore the history held inside our library.