The first phase, which could be completed by August, includes the removal of rotten wood, repairs to joists and rafters, installation of metal roofing material and installation of new fascia and gutters.

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The historic, two-story Lakeside Hospital building on Circle Drive is a 12,000-square-foot curiosity shop undergoing a massive renovation.

The tiled floor in some of the more than 30 former patient rooms show holes made by bedposts.

The original 1949 elevator reportedly was the first elevator between Tallahassee and Pensacola.

Rooms by the former ambulance bay area once served as segregated wards for black patients.

The building also contains dumbwaiters, a fire hose that looks like it belongs on the set of “Mad Men,” knee-controlled sinks that allowed surgeons to keep their hands germ-free, and bathroom sinks that were state-of-the-art when they were installed and now sell for upwards of $600 apiece online.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store here,” Chris Mitchell, who is coordinating the major project to restore the old building and use part of it to showcase the history of the hospital and the Florida Chautauqua Association, said recently.

Headquartered in the former hospital, the association hosts an annual assembly that focuses on education, art, recreation and religion. Besides serving as the grant writer for the city of DeFuniak Springs, Mitchell is a member of the association’s board of directors.

Community donations have covered the $140,000 cost of the first phase of the building renovation.

The first phase, which could be completed by August, includes the removal of rotten wood, repairs to joists and rafters, installation of metal roofing material and installation of new fascia and gutters.

“Pretty much everyone of a certain age in this town was born in that hospital. And all those people learned how to swim in Lake DeFuniak,” said longtime city resident Carla Brown, who works at the DeFuniak Springs Visitors Center on Circle Drive.

‘Nurse. Nurse!’
In 1939 at 1290 Circle Drive, Dr. Ralph Spires opened the one-story Lakeside Clinic that later would become Lakeside Hospital. When it first opened, the clinic was equipped for everything except major surgery.

“At Lakeside Clinic, unwed mothers, the elderly, or those who financially could not seek care otherwise were often treated free, or for a very low rate,” and sometimes Spires was paid in farm produce, according to information from Mitchell.

The clinic was approved as Walton County’s first registered hospital in 1947. That same year, Dr. Edgar Myers joined the hospital as its chief surgeon, and the building’s second floor was added in 1948.

The hospital closed in 1972. A family lived on the second floor in the 1970s and 80s, and the first floor housed various medical offices until 2014, the year after it was bought by the Florida Chautauqua Association.

Mitchell recently led visitors on a tour of the entire building while discussing its renovation, which is being performed by general contractor Paul Rushing of DeFuniak Springs.

Mitchell said he and volunteer Shirley Carroll have removed moisture-soaked carpeting from throughout the structure to reveal the original flooring. This allowed them to see the markings of original walls that were moved over the years during different room reconfigurations.

While many office spaces have been reconfigured, most of the patient rooms remain in their original setups.

“Nurse. Nurse!” Mitchell said playfully from one of the patient rooms while pressing a nurse call system button that activated a corridor light.

Much more work ahead

Thousands of dollars worth of metal donated by Freeport Metal to the Florida Chautaugua Association a few years ago may be enough to cover the former ambulance bay area once its old, damaged roof is demolished, according to Mitchell. The general contractor has generously offered to save the old bay at no extra cost.

The hospital’s main, flat roof recently was replaced with a pitched one that will allow rainwater to run off.

Remaining renovation tasks include the installation of a new sprinkler system, as well electrical, plumbing and sheet-rock repairs throughout the building.

Those items are estimated to total about $300,000. Mitchell is seeking grants and other funding to cover the costs.

He and other Chautauqua board members hope to later set up a Florida Chautauqua history museum in the former ambulance area and display historical items about Lakeside Hospital on the building’s first floor. Mitchell would like anyone who has photos taken inside the hospital from 1939 to 1972 to call him at 850-419-5578.

He said his dream would be to convert the second floor of the former hospital into a bed and breakfast, with rooms themed after Florida Chautauqua Assembly speakers such as former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise.