Why did Destin almost lose East Pass?

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

Most folks have heard the story of the four Destin fishermen who dug the present East Pass in 1929 to allow water to escape the bay after hard rains. But did you know that there was a scheme to dig a new East Pass on Santa Rosa Island in 1923 that would have relocated the East Pass more than a mile away from Destin. Our History Mystery this month is about the proposed town site of Port Dixie on Choctawhatchee Bay.

Shown in this 1923 map is the proposed town site of Port Dixie. This area is today what we know as Shalimar. However, Shalimar wasn’t even a dream in 1923, but Port Dixie was. Port Dixie was “a grandiose scheme which had the ingredients of a great hoax” as stated in the book, "A History of Okaloosa County."

It was proposed to be an extraordinary commercial-industrial complex on Garnier’s Bayou and was chartered as the Port Dixie Harbor and Terminal Company. The venture was dependent on two things. First, East Pass was to be moved (as shown in the map) and dug to a depth of 20 feet so it could accommodate large sea-going vessels. Secondly, a railroad extension was to be constructed from Crestview to the new site of Port Dixie.

Had the Port Dixie scheme been successful and the new East Pass actually dug that would have been the end of the old East Pass, and today boats would have to go about half way down what today we call Okaloosa Island to enter the inlet from Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

An article in the St. Petersburg Times stated that Port Dixie project had a price tag of $17 million. The president of the organization who proposed the scheme was General Albert Clayton Dalton, a retired Army brigadier general, who once headed the United States Shipping Board. Gen. Dalton had a summer home in Hampton, Georgia, and stated that Port Dixie would be a modern seaport and railway terminal.

Plans included the construction of docks, warehouses, railroad terminal yards, and industrial sites, including a ship-building plant, tire plant, a realty company and a nightclub. There would have also been a town of Port Dixie, which would have included residential facilities for the families of the industrial population. The backers were financiers from Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.

In a report to Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers stated that there were 32 residents in Destin and 223 residents in Garnier Bayou and Camp Walton Resort in 1925. The Corps decided that the plan to dredge a new East Pass to a depth of 20 feet to accommodate sea-going vessels was not feasible. That decision, plus the stock market crash in 1929 and the nationwide depression of the 1930s, stopped the plans for Port Dixie cold!

The old East Pass continued to be used until 1929 when a period of spring rains from March 12-15, 1929, caused the Choctawhatchee Bay to raise by five feet. The rising water threatened the residents of Destin’s docks and homes. That threat caused the local fishermen to take matters into their own hands and four of them dug a small trench across Santa Rosa Island to let the water out of the bay. The next morning nature caused that trench to open into a new inlet 100 yards wide, and that is the East Pass we have today.

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 Amazon.com, 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 klein@aristotle.net.