Washington, D.C., is known for many things — the seat of power for the United States, amazing museums and monuments, and embassies representing nearly every country in the world. But did you know that Florida is the only state in America to have an embassy in our nation’s capital?
Florida House on Capitol Hill is proud to connect, celebrate and champion Florida to the world. As a 501c3, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, Florida House is a beautiful Victorian townhouse on Capitol Hill, located just one block from the U.S. Capitol and across the street from the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. Governed by trustees from across the state, Florida House is owned by the people of Florida, not the state, and does not accept any state tax dollars. The organization operates every 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 were lost on Embassy Row, the legend goes one of the children said, “Let’s go to Florida’s embassy and get directions.” Mrs. Chiles said only foreign countries have embassies, but an idea was born.
In the early 1970s, Mrs. Chiles saw a townhouse that had been neglected, almost needing demolition. Most of the windows were boarded up and the second floor had fallen. The house was built in 1891 by an architect of the Library of Congress, Edwin Manning. There was a “For Sale” sign in the window.
Mrs. Chiles’ said she could just see Florida’s flag flying outside that house. With $5,000 of her own money and $120,000 raised from friends in Florida, she purchased the property, then raised the money to renovate the historic building.
In October 1973, Florida House opened and has been in service to Floridians ever since.
Every day at Florida House is different … a Chamber of Commerce from a Florida city may bring members to D.C. to meet with congressional representatives; a university alumni group may gather; or there could be a cocktail party, dinner, press conference, a student group, educational seminar or even a wedding.
Florida House is a champion of education and the arts. Each spring, summer and fall, interns from Florida universities and colleges arrive at Florida House. Not only do they give tours and work on special projects, but host visiting school groups, discussing the two branches of government easily seen from the embassy windows — the judiciary and the legislative branches.
No visit to Florida House is complete without seeing the stunning artwork by Florida’s Highwaymen, Beanie Backus, Jackie Brice, Romero Britto and Jackson Walker. Special exhibitions are hosted each year.
The building itself features beautiful stained-glass original to the house. And the mirror on the main level was a gift from Evalyn Walsh McLean to former owners of the house, Sen. Rice Reynolds and his fifth wife and her 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 respite from the heat or cold with a glass of cold Florida orange juice and a chance to relax before resuming their exploration of our nation’s capital. Our signature green awning with the words “Florida House on Capitol Hill” on the side has people pause to come inside and learn more. Florida House loves to celebrate with these visitors and you will see many pictures and events chronicled on the embassy’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
As a Floridian, you are a part of the history of Florida House and as of today, part of the future. Florida’s embassy plans to be here for future generations of Floridians, serving as the bridge between Washington and Florida. On behalf of the staff and trustees, including those in the Jacksonville Chapter, you are invited to join the 50th anniversary celebration in October 2023. Plan a visit to Florida House soon, as together, Floridians will connect, celebrate and champion Florida to the world.
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