Who first lived where Margaritaville is located today?

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
What is left of the historic magnolia tree with Margaritaville in the background. [SPECIAL TO THE LOG]

One of the newer restaurants in Destin is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. It is located on the harbor just behind the iconic (and historic) magnolia tree…or what is left of it. Our History Mystery this month discusses the first family to live on that property, back when the magnolia tree was in full bloom.

Many old timers remember the magnolia tree as a landmark. It was so large and stable that many fishermen tied their boats to this large tree when bad weather occurred. Also many, many children played beneath and climbed this iconic tree – including my wife Muriel (Marler) Klein. But who first lived on this property?

According to the Federal Census taken on June 7, 1900, Robert Studebaker (age 25, born in Indiana) was the head of the household of family No. 51 living at Destin. Also in this household was his wife Fannie (age 30, born in Florida), and daughter Mattie (age 1 month, born in Florida).

Robert Studebaker was employed as a fisherman. In answering the questions on the census about home ownership he stated he owned his own home free of a mortgage and he lived in a house, not on a farm.

Robert’s wife, Martha Fannie Destin, was the seventh child and third daughter of Leonard and Martha (McCullom) Destin; the founders of the small fishing village of East Pass. She was born on Nov. 9, 1869, at East Pass, today's Destin. Her first name was derived from her mother’s first name, Martha (McCullom) Destin, and her middle name was derived from her father’s mother’s first name, Fannie (Rogers) Destin.

Fannie and Robert “Bob” Studebaker actually lived in an eight-room frame, story and a half house overlooking the harbor. Bob Studebaker built the house on Lot 9 on what was then war department property known as Moreno Point Military Reservation, next to Robert’s brother-in-law George Destin. Their first child, Martha “Mattie” Aleta Studebaker was born on April 22, 1900.

Their second child, also a daughter but unnamed, was born on March 2, 1902, and died the same day. Fannie Studebaker died the next day - March 3, 1902 - from complications involved with child birth. She was laid to rest besides her second daughter at the Marler Memorial Cemetery located at 145 Calhoun Avenue in Destin.

Upon the death of his wife, Robert Studebaker had to make a decision. Should he stay at East Pass and continue fishing for a living or was it time to move on? A job opening occurred that changed Robert L. Studebaker’s life! At Panama City (60 miles to the east) the federal government was installing range lights to guide mariners into St. Andrew Bay. There was a job opening for a "keeper of the lights." Robert Lee Studebaker applied and was hired for that government job on March 21, 1902. Robert moved from East Pass with his daughter Mattie, who was a month from being 2-years old, to the settlement of Cromanton, which was on St. Andrew Bay and near the entrance to the Old Pass.

Robert had heard about the job from his brothers, Frank Studebaker (1863 – 1907) and John Wesley Studebaker (1869 – 1929), who were already living at Cromanton. At that time, Cromanton was a small village located in Calhoun County directly across from the Old Pass into St. Andrew Bay. In 1913, Bay County was formed from parts of Calhoun and Washington counties. Today, Cromanton is on Tyndall Air Force Base, which is now in Bay County.

On May 25, 1931, when the war department sold the 5.75 acres where the magnolia tree is located today (Lot 9, Moreno Point) to Dewey Destin (1898-1938) a bill of sale was attached to the war departments quit claim deed. That bill of sale stated that on Sept. 16, 1929, C. F Williams of Panama City sold the eight-room house located on the property to Dewey Destin for $100.

The house had been originally built by Robert Studebaker and sold to Mr. William’s father, R. J. Williams, in 1909. R. J. Williams had used the house as a camp during the “fish camp” era in Destin. During that era there were very few permanent residents in Destin, but fishermen came each spring and summer from nearby communities (like Panama City, Point Washington and Pensacola) to take advantage of the excellent fishing at East Pass.

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who 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, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at