100 years of Florida Southern College’s Lakeland campus

You’ve seen it in history books and on your walks around Lake Hollingsworth — but did you know it’s seen four names, two fires, and a working relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright?

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An aerial view of Florida Southern College’s campus, ca. 1949 | Image via Florida Memory

This year (2022) marks 100 years of Florida Southern College as we know it here in Lakeland, but did you know the school’s history is actually much deeper than that?

Here’s a quick breakdown of the school’s early years:

  • 1833South Florida Institute (as it was known) was founded in Orlando, making it Florida’s oldest private college.
  • 1885 — The school relocated to Leesburg and changed its name to Florida Conference College.
  • 1901 — Florida Conference College moved to Sutherland (now Palm Harbor), where it would remain for 20 years.
  • 1902 — The school undergoes another name change and becomes Florida Seminary.
  • 1906 — A new title comes into play as the school once again is renamed Southern College.

Florida Southern College’s boy’s dormitory in Sutherland, ca. 1908 | Image via Florida Memory

In 1921, just 20 years after establishing itself in Palm Harbor, a fire broke out on Southern College’s campus. E.T. Roux, the owner of the nearby Clearwater Beach Hotel, invited the college to move into his hotel. This arrangement lasted only one year due to a second fire that broke out and destroyed classroom spaces and dormitories.

After going through two fires in as many years, the school desperately needed a new home. Luckily, it had already purchased 67 acres of defunct Lakeland citrus groves in 1921. It was there that school leaders decided to build, and in 1922, the campus’ first building (Joseph-Reynolds Hall) was built off of Lake Hollingsworth. Whether or not they knew it, the school had finally put down roots at its permanent home.

Shortly after, the institution underwent its fourth and final name change. In 1935, it was officially named Florida Southern College.

Dr. Ludd Spivey (left) and Frank Lloyd Wright (right) talking and standing behind a white fence.

Dr. Ludd Spivey (left) and Frank Lloyd Wright (right) ca. 1930

Photo via Florida Memory

Despite having a permanent home campus and a new name, the school struggled to maintain enrollment during the Great Depression. In an effort to revive the once vibrant campus, President Dr. Ludd Spivey wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938 and proposed a “temple of education.”

Dr. Spivey’s letter enticed the world-renown architect, and that same year, Frank visited the campus. He was reportedly taken with the non-traditional Florida landscape, and it took just three months for him to present plans for the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. By 1941, construction had wrapped on the building.

The campus — which boasts 13 original Frank Lloyd Wright buildings — was dubbed a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

To book a tour of the campus and walk through a historically significant collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, click here.

Want to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright and his relationship with the school? Check out the history here.

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