KLEIN: How, When and Why did Okaloosa County Come into Being?
Another one of the History Mysteries of our area is how, when, and why did Okaloosa County come into being. Isn't it also true that Okaloosa County is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year?
Okaloosa County was the 52nd county established in Florida. It was created out of Walton County (Florida's 11th county) and Santa Rosa County (Florida's 21st county) when the Florida Legislature approved its formation on June 13, 1915… making it 100 years old this year.
The first suggested name for the proposed new county was Yellow River County, but the proposed name was later changed to Wilson County. The name finally settled upon was Okaloosa, the name of the steamboat that brought passengers from Milton to Pensacola on the Black Water River. The name "Okaloosa" was derived from two words in the Choctaw language, “oka” and “lusa” meaning “black water.”
The first county seat was Milligan, Fla. However, it soon became obvious that Crestview was a better location. Crestview was at the center of the county, along the old Spanish Trail, and had a depot on the major railroad which ran through the county. So, Crestview became the new county seat in September of 1917.
In 1913, William Henry Mapoles, a new State Representative of Walton County, introduced the bill proposing the creation of the new county. He did so because he felt it was too far between the county seat of Santa Rosa County (Milton) and the county seat of Walton County (DeFuniak Springs).
It took a whole day to travel from Fort Walton to Crestview – one way. Travel between the two county seats was just as difficult. So dividing the two counties to make a third county made sense. Actually, to make it easier to travel to the county seat by making a county smaller, as the population grew, is the primary reason nearly all counties in Florida were formed from the original two counties of Escambia and St. Johns.
Mapoles’ 1913 bill passed the House, but died on the Senate calendar that year. In 1915, the bill was reintroduced under the joint sponsorship of Representative Mapoles and Senator B. H. Lindsay from Walton and Holmes Counties. The bill passed on June 13, 1915, subject to referendum by the voters of the two affected counties.
The special election was held September 7, 1915 and passed. A new county was formed, and William Henry Mapoles, the owner of the local newspaper and the state legislator that pushed for the new county, is known today as the “Father of Okaloosa County, Florida.”
While the boundaries of most early Florida counties have changed many, many times, the boundary of Okaloosa County has only changed once. On May 31, 1947 a portion of Santa Rosa Island was purchased from Escambia County for $10,000 and added to Okaloosa County. That portion of Santa Rosa Island, in Okaloosa County, is called Okaloosa Island.
With the addition of that Gulf-front property, now officially in Okaloosa County, the city of Fort Walton officially changed its name to Fort Walton Beach on July 15, 1953.
Facts about Okaloosa County
The Okaloosa County seat is in Crestview.
The Florida legislature approved the new county on June 13, 1915, and the voters of the two counties voted approval on September 7, 1915.
Okaloosa County has a population of 180,822.
Okaloosa County has a land and water area of 1,082 square miles.
Okaloosa County’s largest designated population center (DPC), is Wright - which was a surprise to me, with 23,127 residents.
Okaloosa County’s largest employer is the US Department of Defense with the three Air Force bases in the county.
Happy 100th anniversary Okaloosa County
If you would like to know more about the formation of counties in Northwest Florida be sure to visit "Northwest Florida County Lines: The Evolution" a new display at the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida at 115 Westview Avenue, Valparaiso, Florida.
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 a historic book about Destin's pioneer settlers. DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 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, or Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at email@example.com.