De Funiak Springs, Florida
The Walton County Digital Collection includes both the 1916-1917 Catalogue and the 1916 Palmera. Diane Merkel of the Walton County Heritage Association has a section on Palmer College in her book on De Funiak Springs. The De Funiak Springs Herald has a short history of Palmer College in connection with a 1975 school reunion. Florida Memory also has a number of photos from the college online.
The West Florida Normal School had operated at De Funiak Springs from 1887 until 1904, when higher education in Florida was reorganized. The local Presbytery purchased the property and opened a school so that their children could be “educated under distinctly Christian influences.” Palmer College, named for Reverend B. M. Palmer, became a school where “playing cards, the use of intoxicating drinks, visiting poolrooms, all vulgar and profane language are positively prohibited.”
The aim of Palmer College was the “harmonious training and developing of all the faculties of the student’s being—body, mind and soul.” So in addition to a liberal arts curriculum, students had required daily chapel and a required bible course. To develop the body, students—both male and female—had daily gymnastics and physical training.
The catalogue shows an enrollment of 185 in 1916. Sixty-three of these were elementary school students and another 45 were students in the academy. It is no wonder that one of the teachers wrote in 1920 that “half the dormitories are filled up with little kids” Students in the departments of music, commerce, and expression/physical culture were counted separately.
In 1915 students had organized two literary societies—Atheneum and Wallace Bruce. These participated in intersociety debates. As at many schools, commencement at Palmer College was a week of drama, musical and forensic events as well as religious observances.
A two-year school in its final years, Palmer closed abruptly in 1936.
Bricks and Mortar
A number of factors made De Funiak Springs an ideal spot for a Presbyterian College. First, the town was an educational and cultural center for West Florida. It was a home for the Florida Chautauqua and had been a normal college town. Second, it was a Christian-friendly town with a supporting church. Third, it was a recreational center, being next door to the Choctawhatchee National Forest with Lake De Funiak only a few blocks from campus.
The original Palmer College campus consisted of McIlwain Hall, purchased from the state. A three-story girls’ dormitory was later added. Finally, Newton Hall, the brick Boys’ dormitory with a gymnasium came in 1913.
Newton Hall is the only Palmer College building still standing. Once a state office building, it is now an apartment complex called Palmer House Apartments. (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, <floridamemory.com/items/show/2278>)accessed 1-24-2017
Colors: Garnet and Gray
Team name: Lynx and later Tigers
The major sport at Palmer College was baseball. The 1916 Palmera celebrated a team that won two of three games from Tulane and two of three games from the University of Florida. In the Chautauqua championship, they played a 4-4 tie with a Pensacola “picked nine.” Overall, Palmer compiled a 14-2-1 record that season.
The Tampa Tribune reported that future Cub and Red Sox pitcher “Big Ed” Morris had been invited to pitch for Palmer College after his Marine enlistment was up. But after telling a professor, “I came to pitch, not to attend classes,” he was sent home.
In 1916 the Palmera reported that both mens’ and women’s basketball teams had been organized but that neither had played a game. Tennis was a strong intramural sport with school singles and doubles championships for both men and women. A five-member team represented Palmer College in the Chautauqua Track and Field championships, finishing second.
College Football Data Warehouse shows little football activity in any year, though there seems to have been a yearly game with Troy (AL) Normal—which Palmer never won. The Palmer teacher cited above noted that the climate takes the pep out of people and that this “shows still more in football.”
1916 Palmer College baseball team. Note the trophy. (Walton County Public Library Digital Collection <cdm16382.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15299coll3/id/64/rec/1>) accessed 8-28-2018