Have you ever driven into Destin, across the Marler Bridge, and turned down the first street on your left after crossing the bridge? That’s Calhoun Avenue, and it follows Choctawhatchee Bay. Ever wonder who that street was named after? The simple answer is Tyler Calhoun, but this month’s History Mystery will tell you a lot more about the Calhoun family, a man and his wife who came to Destin to retire and instead became Destin’s first land developer.
Tyler Calhoun and his wife, Ida (Reid) Calhoun, were from Cherokee, Alabama. They decided they wanted to move to Florida when they retired. Their eight grown children were out on their own, so it was just the two of them. In 1931, Tyler Calhoun decided to close his lime, rock and asphalt business and stop his work of quarrying rock and laying streets and highways in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee to retire to the Sunshine State.
The Calhouns had taken many Florida vacations over the years but had never visited the panhandle area between Pensacola and St. Andrew Bay. They decided to drive the Old Spanish Trail (U.S. Route 90) and look over the area as a possible retirement location. They traveled with their daughter, Mrs. Dorothy C. Winton, and her 4 1/2-year-old son, Calhoun Winton.
They visited various places along the gulf coast of Florida. Driving along U.S. Route 90 they eventually stopped in DeFuniak Springs. Tyler picked up a local newspaper (The Banner) and read Mr. Clement Taylor's column titled “Destin News.” The article was intriguing, so they decided to take a look at the isolated spot. They drove to Valparaiso and hired a boat and boatman to take them to the Taylors’ home in the village of Destin. They liked what they saw and wanted to buy a piece of land, so they made plans to return. Mr. Taylor’s column of Thursday, Nov. 5, 1931, tells of their next visit:
"Mr. Tyler Calhoun of Cherokee, Ala., and his wife, with their daughter, Mrs. Winton, and her little son, arrived by boat from Valparaiso Wednesday. His intention was to build a residence next to the Taylor house on land purchased from Mrs. Clement E. Taylor. They rented the cottage from Clarence Marler so to be near the spot. (* see author’s note)
"On visiting the old house that was built by the original Captain Destin, they were so charmed with the location and the style of the house that they felt they could do more good for the place if they could make that their home. They approached Prof. Taylor on the subject as he was removing the roof so as to remove the material to build for Mrs. Taylor, and with his approval, they visited the owner of the land, Mrs. Leonard Woodward, and secured a lease on that part of her land on which the house stands and they have arranged with Mr. Taylor to put the building in thorough repair so they can bring their furniture as soon as possible.
"This gentleman is connected with The Lime Rock Asphalt Company of Cherokee, Alabama, and has brought a specimen of a material used in hard surface roads. These can be seen at any time by those interested in hard surfacing the Peninsular Highway, known as Road No. 115.
"Mr. Calhoun is a civil engineer and his wife has been a teacher of science, and still holds a life certificate. Her daughter is the wife of Captain Wilton, and being connected with some of the leading American citizens both military and civil. He has leased the land on the bay with the option to purchase later on.
"These friends left on the launch Shamrock II for Valparaiso, where they had parked their car, and they hope to return soon as possible and get busy for the benefit of this place.
"Garfield Taylor, just back from his honeymoon, will assist his father in putting the old Destin house in repair and we are glad that the Calhoun ladies want the building to remain as near like Captain Destin left it as possible.”
*Author’s note: Clarence Marler is the author’s father-in-law
Three weeks later, Mr. Taylor writes in The Banner of the return of the Tyler and Ida Calhoun with their vanload of furniture, which Dewey Destin brought over on several runs of his fishing boat. To get some of the larger pieces upstairs, they had to remove a window and hoist the furniture with block and tackle. This method of furniture moving was necessary because of the small staircase in the house; at two feet wide, it was built more like a ship’s ladder than an actual flight of stairs.
Retirement was a quiet life for Tyler and Ida. Destin was a very small fishing village and according to the 1930 federal census there were 32 families living in Destin and a total population of 166. There was only one store and that was in the house of William T. Marler, the postmaster.
From the start, the Calhouns were delighted with Destin. Their children and grandchildren came to visit often. There was a long dock on the property for the enjoyment of all. The Calhouns bought a motor launch to get from place to place, as there were no roads and there was no bridge back then. But the quiet life of these retirees would not last long.
Things were changing in Destin in the 1930s! Destin had been Moreno Point Military Reservation from 1842 to 1926. In 1926, the War Department got Congress to approve selling 44 military properties all across the country. That included 18 in Florida, of which Moreno Point Military Reservation was one.
For the War Department, land sales in Destin were slow. They didn’t begin actually selling the land until 1930. On July 15, 1930, Leonard Woodward, Leonard Destin’s grandson, bought the original Leonard Destin property, which he and his family had been living on since the death of his grandmother, Martha Destin, in 1896. They purchased the property, which contained 6.84 acres for $342 or $50 an acre. Leonard Woodward died later that year, on Dec. 3, 1930, and his wife made the deal to sell the home and 3.4 acres of their land to the Calhouns on Nov. 1, 1931 (just 16 months after they bought it from the War Department) for $1,500.
The War Department continued to sell land as they could until 1935 when they had sold all of the waterfront land in the Village of Destin where the pioneer settlers (all fishermen) lived and leased their land from the War Department for decades. Then on April 25, 1935, the War Department sold the rest of the land at Destin to one man, J. R. Moody, the owner of the Vernon Land and Timber Company, in Red Head, Florida. Moody purchased 97 percent of what we consider Destin, Florida today (5,783.09 acres) for $38,226.22 or $6.61 an acre.
Next month we will see that Tyler and Ida Calhoun’s retirement was short lived. Opportunities to grow with Destin were starting to unfold and Tyler Calhoun was about to become the firstland developer in the village of Destin.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author and speaker. He 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 Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 and DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin. 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 Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.