History Mystery: Was Miramar Beach once named Shoals, Florida?

Hank Klein
The photo above is a picture of George Delbert Knapp's homestead. You can see a very simple pine cabin. A window with no glass. Someone is standing on the front porch and his horses and cattle are corralled in his front yard. You can also see by the background in the photo that this homestead was on the bay side. Courtesy Lynn McGoogan.

Yes, it was! In this latest article entry to the History Mysteries of Destin, we will find out what happened to the town of Shoals, which is where Miramar Beach is now located.

Miramar Beach is just an extension of Destin, or so it seems today. As we ride through Destin on U.S. Highway 98, we pass the Destin Commons and approach the sign that we are entering Walton County. Destin seems to just continue on with more shopping centers, high-rise condos, golf courses, resorts and residential areas. Some of us notice that we are entering the unincorporated area called Miramar Beach, but it seems that busy Destin just continues on into Walton County.

Well, it wasn’t always that way. The area that we know as Miramar Beach was once known as Shoals, Florida.  Nobody seems to remember Shoals – not even the history buffs. In this article we hope to give the reader some history of the early homesteading in this area, discover what happened to Shoals.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 into law on May 20, 1862. The act granted free land, of up to 160 acres (a quarter of a section), to any citizen or anyone who wanted to become a citizen of the United States.

The applicant had to live on the land for five years and make improvements (build a home, clear the land for farming, etc.) before the title would pass to the homesteader. The Homestead Act was the United States’ first real welfare program that made land ownership available to anyone who wanted it for free. Homesteading brought immigrants to our young country in droves. Homesteading grew the south, and the west, and helped expand our young country to the Pacific Ocean.

After 1862, most all of the land south of Choctawhatchee Bay was available for homesteading and the availability of free land brought homesteaders from North and South Carolina. They migrated through Georgia and Alabama. Some stayed in those states while others pushed on and eventually settled in Florida. The townships south of Choctawhatchee Bay were:

Point Washington - (Township 2-South, Range 19-West) was available for homesteading.

Santa Rosa - (Township 2-South, Range 20-West) was available for homesteading.

Shoals - (Township 2-South, Range 21-West) was available for homesteading.

Destin – (Township 2-South, Range 22-West) was NOT available for homesteading.

The reason Destin was not available to be homesteaded was that President John Tyler had taken Destin – or Moreno Point as it was first called – out of the public domain on February 9, 1842, and set it aside for the War Department, as Moreno Point Military Reservation.

The first homesteader in the Shoals area was Christ L. Hougen who acquired lot 1, in Section 19 on December 20, 1904. This meant that he applied for his right to homestead and moved onto the land at least in 1899 as he had to live there for 5 years before he could obtain a Patent Deed from the President of the United States.

A post office was established in Shoals, and on March 9, 1915. George Delbert Knapp (who was known as Del) was appointed as the first postmaster. He continued as postmaster until Feb. 1, 1917.

On Feb. 1, 1917, John J. Lauerman, a neighbor, took over as postmaster and he continued until February 28, 1919.  On March 1, 1919 the Post Office was discontinued at Shoals and was merged into the Santa Rosa Post Office.

Homes were built and land was cleared, and: Shoals grew as a farming community growing citrus trees.

Santa Rosa was developed as a planned community with citrus farming as their main crop. Point Washington grew as a logging community.

In 1924, citrus canker hit the orange trees and they had to be burned and the area was abandoned by many of the farmers.

Today, it isn’t crops that are grown there, but beachfront property, golf courses, resorts and shopping malls that grew up where the citrus groves once thrived.  I bet the next thing you will ask is who renamed the area Miramar Beach, Florida. Next month we will answer that question for our readers.

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 klein@aristotle.net.