History Mystery: Was there a logging operation in Destin?

Hank Klein
Guest columnist

A reader asked a History Mystery question about logging in Destin. He lives on Indian Bayou and was led to believe by old timers that the bayou had its origins as a logging slough created by the harvesting of cypress trees because they still have plenty of cypress stumps in his area. It wasn’t just cypress, but he was correct that once there was logging and turpentining going on throughout Destin.

A little background — the United States acquired East and West Florida from Spain for $5,000,000 in 1819 and Florida became a territory until 1845 when it gained statehood. In 1842 President John Tyler (with a Presidential Executive Order) took Moreno Point (what we know as Destin today) out of the public domain and gave it to the war department, and they established Moreno Point Military Reservation in the entire area.

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By 1926 the War Department had not used the land and considered it surplus. Congress agreed and voted to allow the War Department to sell the land at Moreno Point (Destin) plus 18 other military installations in Florida and a total of 44 military installations nationwide. By 1934 all of the waterfront land from the west side of Joe’s Bayou around to where the Marler Memorial Bridge is today and onto the harbor where Benning Drive enters Highway 98 – all this waterfront land was sold to the local pioneer settlers who had been living in the area. Those 43 lots sold by the war department to the local pioneer settlers are shown in the April 1930 Survey of Lots shown below.

The 43 lots sold by the war department to the local pioneer settlers in what is now Destin are shown in the April 1930 Survey of Lots.

The remainder of the land from where the Destin Bridge is today, eight miles to the Walton County line (except for those 43 waterfront lots already mentioned), was sold in one single transaction to J. R. Moody of the Vernon Land and Timber Company on June 25, 1935, for $38,226.22. While Moody owned all of Destin, except for the 43 waterfront lots within the village, he was not in the land business.

J. R. Moody was a turpentiner and was only interested in the pine trees and their sap.  Naval stores were big business in the days of wooden boats. They stripped a portion of the pine trees’ bark, gathered their sap, and sold the sap for the production of naval stores which was used for the upkeep of wooden boats.

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J. R. Moody almost immediately re-sold much of the land he had purchased in 4 transactions for a total of $45,000. But he kept the turpentining and logging rights on all the land he sold. So the stumps our reader mentions are probably because the land was logged by the Vernon Land and Timber Company sometime between 1935 and 1943.

Coleman Kelley worked for J. R. Moody and they were both from Red Head (a very small community near Ebro, in Walton County). Moody promoted Kelley to manage his newly acquired land in Okaloosa County (Destin) and eventually worked out a lease agreement with Coleman Kelley whereby Kelley became a 50% owner in the Destin turpentine business for the sum of $15,000.

What J. R. Moody was really interested in was not the land, but the Long Leaf and Slash Pine trees growing on the property. He was a turpentiner and he wanted to get ‘Naval Stores’ from the pine trees. When the trees were all tapped out, he cut them down and sold them for lumber to the Bagdad Lumber Company in Bagdad, Florida.  Moody and Kelley established the Destin Turpentine Company for the Okaloosa County operation and located an office near the bridge in Destin. That building which was to the north of the Destin Bridge was just recently demolished.

The leases that J. R. Moody had acquired when he sold his land ran out in the mid-1940s and so did turpentining and logging in Destin, Florida. We hope this answers our reader's question and takes the Mystery out of the History of the Logging and Turpentining period at Destin, Florida.

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker on local history. He lives in Bob Hope Village in Shalimar with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - 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, The Destin History & Fishing Museum in Destin, Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at klein@aristotle.net.