100 years of Florida Southern College’s Lakeland campus

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

This year 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?

South Florida Institute (as it was known) was founded in 1883 in Orlando, making it Florida’s oldest private college. The school relocated to Leesburg in 1885 and changed its name to Florida Conference College. In 1901, it moved to Sutherland (now Palm Harbor) and underwent two more name changes — first to Florida Seminary in 1902, then to Southern College in 1906.

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

In 1921, a fire broke out on Southern College’s Palm Harbor 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 + dormitories. 

After going through two fires in as many years, the school needed a new home. Luckily, it had already purchased 67 acres of defunct Lakeland citrus groves in 1921. 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.

It was officially named Florida Southern College in 1935.

Dr. Ludd Spivey (left) and Frank Lloyd Wright (right) ca. 1930 | Photo via Florida Memory

In an effort to revive the once vibrant campus after losing much of its enrollment during the Great Depression, President Dr. Ludd Spivey wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938 and proposed a temple of education. That same year, Frank visited the campus and was taken with the non-traditional Florida landscape. Plans for Annie Pfeiffer Chapel were presented three months later, and construction wrapped in 1941

In 2012, the campus was dubbed a National Historic Landmark. To book your tour of the campus + walk through a historically significant collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, click here.