Panhandle library is one for the history books

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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WJHG) - In historic DeFuniak Springs, you'll find a Panhandle treasure. One that no doubt holds the literary classic "Treasure Island."

Some call it part library, part museum.

The Walton-DeFuniak Library sits where Live Oak Avenue ends at Circle Drive. A 125-year-old live oak tree seemingly stands guard over the landmark.

“We get feedback from people that say this is almost like a museum,” said Dan Owens, director of the Walton County Library System.

The library is 131 years old.

“This library is special because it was built to serve as a library in 1887 and has done so continuously since 1887,” said Owens.

It’s the oldest continuously serving library in Florida, meaning in the same building intended as a library.

“[The] Ladies Aide Society that was working with the Florida Chautauqua decided that they needed a library [at that time],” said Owens.

Owens says the library’s collection includes 800 historically significantly books, some dating back to the 1800s.

“Now, this particular book ['The Land of Burns'] it says, 'To the DeFuniak Library with compliments of Wallace Bruce, April 22nd, 1887,'" said Owens. "The other part of it is, this was the 17th book in the library's collection.”

It’s the library’s oldest book. And one that evaded a book’s nemesis.

“You'll notice if you can see this little hole? That was caused by a bookworm," said Owens, as he pointed to another book that looked like a hole was drilled through it.

The library is also home to a first edition copy of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lee signed the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and gifted it to the library when she was given a private tour.

In the corner and to left when you walk through the front door, you'll find a top-of-the-line, approximately 100-year-old wooden Regina music box. It was donated to the library several years ago. The rich, melodic tones are uniquely vibrant.

Ms. Alice Fellows was the library’s first paid librarian. She served in that role from 1896 until her death in 1926.

“Her nephew said that she was very severe and strict," said a smirking Owens. "You can look at this picture and see she has a bun in her hair. There’s a pencil stuck in the bun and he said she did not tolerate frivolity and especially young boys that were being silly.”

More than 100 weapons line the library’s walls.

“The weapons were brought here by Wallace Bruce and his son Kenneth Bruce,” said Owens.

They come from Africa, Japan, Polynesia, and Southeast Asia, some almost a thousand years old.

“The battle axes were identified as being from the 12th century,” said Owens.

The library started out as a 16 1/2 by 24-foot room. The pine wood floors are the original floors. It expanded in 1894.

“So the Ladies Library Association says there are so many books and so little room that they needed to expand, so they almost more than doubled the space,” said Owens.

It expanded again in 1984.

“Our community really supports this library," said Owens. "They use it. They bring their family and friends when they're visitors to show off the library, and so it's a focal point in our community.”

A focal point that’s one for the history books because its history is its books.

The library serves about 2,700 patrons a month. Up until recently, it served more people than the other three Walton County libraries combined. It’s a full-service library with all the modern amenities most other public libraries have.