Last month the Northwest Florida Daily News published a story titled “No Longer Forgotten.” This Feb. 2 article was about the Arcadia Mill site, near Milton, and its owner Joseph Forsyth. In 1828, Forsyth founded what would become the world’s largest producer of long leaf yellow pine lumber in the world by the time it closed in 1939 as the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company.
There are two very interesting interpretive parks - one in Milton at the Arcadia Mill site and one in Bagdad at the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company site. If you are looking for something interesting to do for a day, ride over to Milton and/or Bagdad and visit those parks. If you are interested in local history you won’t be disappointed.
On Feb. 3, I gave a historical presentation at the Bagdad Village Museum on Church Street in Bagdad. The title of my talk was The Early History of Destin, Florida and Its Relationship to Bagdad, Florida. Our History Mystery this month is what the two cities have in common.
Bagdad was founded by one man, Joseph Forsyth, while Destin was also founded by one man, Leonard Destin. These two men had a lot in common.
In1841, the Mill moved from Arcadia to the new town of Bagdad, which was a one purpose town, the lumber mill. The company town had 500 residents. Destin was also a one purpose town - commercial fishing, which had five families in the mid-1800s. Bagdad’s founder came to Florida from New Orleans and Destin’s founder also came to Florida from New Orleans.
Bagdad’s founder was born in New London, Connecticut, in 1802, while the founder of Destin was born in 1813 … also in New London, Connecticut. The fathers of both men earned their living from the sea. Joseph Forsyth, the founder of the lumber mill company town of Bagdad, and Leonard Destin, the founder of the fishing village of Destin must have known each other.
Leonard Destin’s last vessel was a 36-foot sloop rigged fishing smack named, ALABAMA. It was built in 1851 in Santa Rosa County. Gardner’s Shipyard was located in Bagdad at shipyard point and may have built Leonard Destin’s sloop. Leonard Destin built his house in 1852, and Leonard might have purchased the lumber to build his two story New England style home from the Bagdad Lumber Company.
I have not been able to find anything showing that Joseph Forsyth and Leonard Destin actually knew each other. But I just can’t believe that Leonard Destin was in Santa Rosa County having his boat built, which would have taken months, and never met a prominent local man who was born in the same New England town that he was.
Both Joseph Forsyth and Leonard Destin died and are buried in the towns they founded. Joseph Forsyth is buried in the cemetery in Bagdad next to his wife. Leonard Destin is buried in cemetery in Destin next to his wife. In both cases, the monuments to these two men are the tallest monuments in the cemeteries, a testimony to these two men's importance in the towns they founded – one as a saw mill town and the other as a commercial fishing village.
On April 18, 1939, after 111 years in operation, the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company closed its doors and laid off 1,200 employees because they had no more trees in Northwest Florida and Southern Alabama to harvest. The last mill owner was Burney Henderson. He had the responsibility of closing down the mill and selling the town. Next month we will add to this History Mystery and discuss Henderson’s tie to Destin and a mill employee, Billy Milligan, who helped bring electric service to homes in Destin for the first time.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian and author who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin - DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin and DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, The Destin History & Fishing Museum, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Sun Dog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.