'Yes, one man owned all of Destin:' Local historian gives lecture on early Destin settlers

Savannah Vasquez
Hank Klein is a self-proclaimed historian that spends a majority of his time researching Destin history.

A self-proclaimed Destin historian, Hank Klein, is back in town and has already made eight presentations on Destin’s early settlers. Klein said that after he married Muriel Marler, a Destin native, the history surrounding this little fishing village has personally intrigued him.

“Because of my love of history, when I retired I decided to delve deeper into history, all types of history,” he said. “I really got interested in Destin and in historical research of early Destin.”

Tuesday saw a full house of about 60 people come to the Destin Library to hear Klein share research from his new book, “Destin Pioneer Settlers-A land history of Destin Florida from 1819-1940.”

Klein began with a brief history of the formation of Florida as a state and the establishment of military installations along the Gulf Coast which included modern day Destin.

“On February 9, 1842, John Tyler the ninth president of the United States of America established Moreno point as a military installation and also set aside nearly a dozen military sites and reservations along the northern Gulf of Mexico,” said Klein. “They were concerned about harbor defenses, primarily getting prepared for the Mexican[-American] war.”

As the historical timeline continued, Klein explained the land was no longer needed for military purposes and was eventually leased and then sold to early settlers at what we would consider a steal today.

“The Federal Government sold the land in Northwest Florida for $50 an acre and it was all waterfront property,” said Klein. “Eventually 29 local pioneers bought their land directly from the Federal Government from Benning Drive to the bridge and from the harbor all the way to Joe’s Bayou that was the original village.”

The climax of Klein’s presentation was the fact that the remaining land in Destin that made up it’s interior was sold to one man.

“Yes, one man owned all of Destin in 1935 except for 43 lots of waterfront property,” said Klein. “5,783.09 acres was sold to J.R. Moody, owner of the Vernon Land and Timber Company for $38,226.22 or $6.61 an acre. He then re-sold his land in three transactions but retained the right to turpentine on the land.”

After gasps rose from the crowd, Klein introduced two guests sitting in the audience who were direct descendants of this famous man: Moody’s daughter, Mary-Catherine Moody-Jinks and his grandson J.R. ‘Jim’ Moody III. The introduction drew rounds of applause and the two later entertained questions from the audience.

As for Klein, he wrapped up his lecture by naming other primary settlers and land developers including Tyler Calhoun, the very first Destin land developer, and Coleman Kelly who eventually became a driving force in Destin along with his wife Mattie Kelly.

For more information on Hank Klein, email