By Sue Molm
Washington, DC is known for many things – the seat of power of the United States, amazing museums and monuments and embassies representing almost every country in the world. But did you know that Florida is the only state in America that has an embassy in our nation’s capital?
Florida House on Capitol Hill is proud to connect, celebrate and champion Florida with the world. A 501c3, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, Florida House is a beautiful Victorian townhouse on Capitol Hill, just one block from the US Capitol and across from the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. Florida House is managed by statewide trustees and is owned by Florida residents, not the state, and accepts no state tax money. The organization operates each year with the contributions of Floridians and Floridians at heart.
When former Senator and Governor Lawton Chiles and his wife Rhea were visiting Washington, D.C. with their children in the late 1960s and got lost on Embassy Row, legend has it that one of the children said, “Let’s go to the Florida Embassy and get directions.” .” Ms. Chiles said only abroad had embassies, but an idea was born.
In the early 1970s, Mrs. Chiles saw a neglected townhouse that was almost in the process of being torn down. Most of the windows were boarded up and the second floor had collapsed. The house was built in 1891 by a Library of Congress architect, Edwin Manning. There was a “For Sale” sign in the window.
Mrs. Chiles said she could just see the Florida flag flying in front of the house. Using $5,000 of her own money and $120,000 raised from friends in Florida, she bought the property and then raised the money to renovate the historic building.
Florida House opened in October 1973 and has served Florida residents ever since.
Every day at Florida House is different… a Florida City Chamber of Commerce can bring members to DC to meet with Congress officials; a university alumni group can gather; or it could be a cocktail party, dinner, press conference, student group, educational seminar, or even a wedding.
Florida House is an advocate for education and the arts. Interns from Florida universities and colleges come to Florida House every spring, summer and fall. As well as giving tours and working on special projects, they host school visitation groups who discuss the two branches of government that are easy to see from the embassy windows – the judiciary and the legislature.
No visit to Florida House is complete without seeing the stunning artwork of Florida’s Highwaymen, Beanie Backus, Jackie Brice, Romero Britto and Jackson Walker. Special exhibitions are held every year.
The building itself features beautiful stained glass that is original to the house. And the main level mirror was a gift from Evalyn Walsh McLean to the home’s former owners, Sen. Rice Reynolds and his fifth wife and their daughter, Evalyn Washington McLean. Mrs. McLean is best known as the last private owner of the Hope Diamond.
Tours are conducted for visitors from Florida, other states and around the world, offering a break from the heat or cold with a glass of cold Florida orange juice and a chance to relax before continuing your exploration of our state’s capital. Our signature green awning with “Florida House on Capitol Hill” written on the side makes people pause to come in and learn more. Florida House loves to celebrate with these visitors and you will see many pictures and events on the Embassy’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
As a Floridian, you are part of the history of Florida House and, starting today, are part of the future. Florida’s Embassy plans to be here for future generations of Floridas and to serve as a bridge between Washington and Florida. On behalf of the staff and trustees, including those in the Jacksonville Chapter, you are invited to attend the 50th Anniversary Celebration in October 2023. Schedule a visit to Florida House soon, because together, Floridians will connect Florida to the world, celebrate, and stand up for Florida.