It’s a short street in Destin but Stahlman Avenue is home to the Destin Community Center and the Destin History and Fishing Museum.
James Geddes Stahlman was born on Feb. 28, 1893 in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1916, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and went on to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago for a year. Stahlman’s paternal grandfather, Major Edward Bushrod Stahlman, was the owner of the Nashville Banner and helped James start his career in journalism by making him a reporter after he graduated high school in 1912.
In 1917, James became a first lieutenant in the Tennessee National Guard, but was discharged from training camp when World War I started as a result of being underweight. Instead, he enlisted as an infantry private in the U.S. Army.
James returned to civilian life in 1918 and became the city editor of the Banner until his grandfather named him vice-president and executive director in 1925. Edward Stahlman died in 1930, making 37-year-old James the president and publisher of the Banner. In 1932, he was elected president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, who worked alongside the American Newspaper Publishers Association to fight to defeat President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to force newspapers to accept federal license under the National Recovery Act. The newspapers won and made Stahlman a prominent figure in the newspaper field. In 1935, he became vice president of the ANPA and became one of the youngest presidents of the ANPA ever in 1937 at the age of 44. He also authored three books comprised of his various writings for the Banner.
In an article in the Banner, Beatrice Patton, the widow of Gen. George S. Patton Jr., commented on James' third book saying "Your's is the finest digest of the post-War World that I have yet read."
James Stahlman was married three times. He married his first wife, Mildred Porter Thornton, in 1917 and had two daughters, Mildred and Ann, before they divorced. In 1939, he married his second wife, Effye Chumley, who was killed in a car accident in 1952. In 1953, he married Glady Breckenridge and remained married to her until his death in 1976.
Sometime in the 1930s, Tyler Calhoun visited James in Tennessee to convince him to visit and buy a piece of “paradise” in Destin. According to records at the Destin History and Fishing Museum, James told Calhoun that he couldn’t afford to buy land anywhere but accepted his offer to visit and ended up falling in love with the area.
However, in 1933, James purchased the 5.67 acre Lot 16 from the War Department for $500, according to Destin historian Hank Klein. He eventually built two homes there, one of them in the Joe’s Bayou area. Calhoun was the one who named Stahlman Avenue in James' honor.
Beginning with the opening of service to South Africa in 1934, James participated in all of the pioneer flights of Pan American World Airways, including trips to Asia, Burmuda, Europe and an around-the-world flight in 1947. During his trips, he would often send letters and postcards to his friends, like the Marler’s, in Destin.
After 60 years of service to the Nashville Banner, James sold the Banner to the Gannett Corporation in 1972 and retired to Destin. Stahlman died on May 1, 1976, at the age of 83, after suffering a stroke while attending a Vanderbilt board meeting. Vanderbilt created the James G. Stahlman Professorship of American History in his honor, a position which is currently held by Jefferson Cowie.