Destin’s oldest home is now a thing of the past, but a restaurant may rise from the rubble and lumber.
When Leonard Destin built his colonial-style home in 1866 on Calhoun Avenue, the road was all dirt, in fact, it wasn’t even Calhoun Avenue.
The long driveway was marked by a large magnolia tree. The front porch was often home for a quiet nap or birthday parties. Since the Destin bridge wasn’t to be built until 1936, building materials such as concrete were limited. People like Destin used whatever materials they could find to build homes.
In the 1930s, what was called the first house in Destin was sold to Tyler and Ida Calhoun. The house was in need of repairs and updating as the Calhouns added a bathroom, among other renovations.
Since the 1950s, the house was in the Dekle family. From the outside, the house hadn’t changed much with the exception of its surroundings. It was a reminder of the simpler times in Destin.
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The Destin homestead was torn down last Thursday. And with it, a piece of history.
“I drive by there on my way to work,” said Jean Melvin, executive director at the Destin History and Fishing Museum. “I was surprised to see it gone. It’s just one more piece of our history gone; it’s sad.”
“This isn’t a unique story. Buildings get too old and aren’t viable for use. It’s sad, but there’s no way around it,” added Kathy Marler, associate director at the museum.
The home was not just a part of Destin’s history, but a part of American history. The house was actually re-built in 1866 after being burnt down in a fire during the Civil War. Apparently, Leonard Destin’s New England background made him a target, said his great-great-grandson, Dewey Destin.
The museum tried to purchase the home to preserve its historical significance, especially in light of the fact that the next oldest home in Destin dates to around the 1920s or 1930s.
When developers Danny Smith and Christine Clark purchased the home and property about a month ago, they tried to donate the home to the museum, but again, the cost of moving the 147-year-old home in its deteriorating condition was too high and ultimately too risky of a decision. Three different moving companies even turned down the developer’s request to move the house, Smith said.
It took a couple of years to purchase the property, Smith said, and it wasn’t a hasty decision. Before the wrecking ball came out, Smith and his partner Clark, a transplant from Houston, surveyed the home. They found the foundation being eaten away by termites and deteriorated wiring.
In the middle of the destruction Friday afternoon, Smith walked through the piles of lumber. He picked up a large piece of wood and demonstrated its brittle condition by pulling it apart with ease.
“We’re actually trying to preserve any wood we can from the home,” Smith said pointing to a pile of wood set apart from the construction zone.
Smith said the idea now is to build a restaurant/bar/music venue combo on the waterfront property, which was re-zoned in the mid-2000s for commercial use.
“We’re extraordinarily lucky and delighted to have the opportunity to build something that will employ as many as 100 people and increase the tax base,” he said. “I’m a business man. This is what progress is all about.”
The significance of Destin’s oldest home was not lost on Danny. Before the house was to come down, he invited residents such as Dewey Destin to visit the old homestead one last time.
Dewey noted that the house was built with “old style construction skills,” using cypress pilings and no nails. While he doesn’t know what’s to come in the future, Dewey hopes Smith and the city find a way to commemorate the house.
“That home has been a part of Destin’s history,” Dewey said of seeing his great-great grandfather’s house one last time. “It’s sad, but life goes on. You can’t stop the future from unfolding.”
For more information on the Destin homestead, visit the Destin History and Fishing Museum where you can see photos and get background information on Leonard Destin and the Calhouns. The museum, at 108 Stahlman Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.