Reviving History: Residents Are Trying to Revive One of the Only Gyms that Allowed African Americans


DeFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. – A historic landmark is being rebuilt but it hasn’t been easy or cheap. This project though is so important to the residents in north Walton County. 

The history of that building goes back to 1960. 

To most people passing by, this might just look like an old gym in serious need of “TLC” but, to several generations of residents in DeFuniak Springs, the Tivoli Gym used to be the only gym in the Panhandle that allowed African American children to play. 

“We traveled over here quite a bit. We used to have dances they played basketball tournaments and it was a great thing,” said Birdie Holmes, DeFuniak Springs resident. 

For part of her life, Holmes lived in the next town over and said she loved going to the Tivoli Gym. Generation after generation, she watched children going to the gym.

Over the years, the building has suffered major wear and tear, causing the building to be shut down for safety but, an advocate for the gym is working to reopen the doors. 

“It’s a worthwhile project on that east side, simply because there’s nothing on the east side for the children nor the families. So we are just pleading with you to continue to stay on board with us and help us work the project out until the end,” said Buck Williamson, Tivoli Gym

Buck Williamson is spearheading the revival project. Asking the commissioners for $125,000 from, Williamson said that should get them through the final phase of the project. 

“Basketball is my favorite sport. I can’t wait to have it open,” said Marques Russell, 11-years-old

“We have been waiting for so long for the gym to open back up. I came up to school up here for a few years and went to high school and that’s where we came on the weekends. To play and have a good time,” shared Sean Francis, a resident.

The building now has a new roof, a fresh coat of paint and new doors. Next is installing lights and air conditioning.

“That’s pretty cool that’s pretty cool I’m probably going to go up there every day,” said Demetrius Howard, 11-years-old.

The Walton County Commissioners directed staff to look into securing a grant from the historical society at the state level. 

“Anytime you get kids involved in things, it keeps them off the streets. I’m a big supporter of sports programs. I’m a big supporter of children of Walton County,” said Tony Anderson, Walton County Commissioner. “So, anything we can do to help with that end, we are going to do our best to do it.”

Williamson told commissioners he plans to have the building open by next spring. 

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