The home on Old Shell Road
Back in the day when the Destin Bridge was made of wood and Highway 98 was a two-lane road, the first named street in Destin was Old Shell Road. On that road, General Franklin C. Sibert hand-picked Lot 17 to build the first Army Rest Camp in our area. It is said he hand-picked Lot 17, five beautiful acres on the Choctawhatchee Bay, because of its 180-degree waterfront view and the land sat “high and dry." General Sibert purchased the land from Lawn Thompson, who had acquired it for $428 just a month earlier. The year was 1931.
The Army Rest Camp was developed on those five acres with a one story building in the center of the property facing the bay, flagged by two multi-story houses that served as living quarters for the officers and enlisted men who came for R&R. The center house was the mess hall and community center for the camp and hosted many dances, dinners and parties in its heyday.
The years passed, Old Shell Road became Calhoun Avenue, the officers’ quarters either blew away or were torn down, but that center house was built strong, remained standing and eventually became a private residence. The home changed hands many times over the years and those walls provided shelter to some of Destin’s oldest families.
In 1989, Duane and Nancy St. John purchased the .67-acre double lot where the “Mess Hall” stood at 333 Calhoun Ave. The condition of the home was so bad that some less adventurous homebuyers may have torn it down, but for their love of old homes and with skilled renovations, they brought the “Mess Hall” back to life. In 1992 they added a 2-bedroom guest cottage, a two-car garage and in 1995 the St. Johns finished it off by adding a greenhouse and a workshop.
Over the years their kids grew and started families of their own. Duane and Nancy tended the gardens and loved to watch the beautiful birds that chose to call it home. They planted camellia’s (over 40 of them), azaleas of all colors, Jasmine that has grown into walls of sweet smelling flowers, ivy’s for ground cover and herbs for the chef. The gardens are full of life — birds, turtles, and of course the squirrels. Then there’s the Bay, endless views full of dolphins, blue heron, pelicans and fish of all kinds … a non-stop show that nature puts on, with the promise of a free sunset at the end of every day.
After more than 28 years of living in and being good stewards of this historic home and gardens, it’s time to pass the torch. Duane and Nancy St. John, now in their 80’s, are ready to down-size and sell the ‘Mess Hall."
Lisa Snuggs is owner/broker of Lisa Snuggs Real Estate Group and can be reached at LisaSnuggs@cox.net.