When did Destin become a vacation destination?
With the summer tourist season at its height, some might wonder when tourism first came to the small fishing village of Destin. In this month’s History Mystery you will learn who first offered rental cottages to tourists in Destin.
B.C. - “before condos,” hotels or even motels existed in Destin, Mrs. A. H. Green rented five small cottages to tourists and called them the Island View Cottages. When the War Department declared Township 2, South, Range 22, West, their Moreno Point Military Reservation surplus in 1926, they had a very difficult time selling the land at what is today considered Destin. In my book, "DESTIN Pioneer Settlers…A Land History from 1819-1940," I describe the very unusual history of the land that makes up Destin from when Florida was ceded by the Spanish to the United States, to when one man owned 97 percent of what we know as Destin today.
The War Department sold two of its lots on the harbor to Mrs. A. H. Green of Pensacola. She used her purchase to establish the first vacation rentals at Destin. On May 12, 1932, A. H. Green purchased Lot 8, containing 1.68 acres for $186 (or $110.71 per acre). Then on Sept. 7, 1932, A. H. Green purchased Lot 7-K containing 1.23 acres for $62 (or $50.61 per acre). Those two lots were on either side or my wife’s parents, Clarence and Gladys Marler, who lived on Lot 7L on the harbor.
When Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Green purchased Lot 8 there existed on the property a small house. That house is where by my wife’s grandmother (on her mother’s side of her family), Mary “Minnie” Shirah, lived. She arrived at Destin in 1921 with her nine children and her granddaughter from Apalachicola. By 1930, an aging Mary Shirah vacated the house and moved in with her son Barney Shirah, and his wife Dee, where she lived until her death on Feb. 5, 1934.
After the Greens bought the property from the War Department they added four additional cottages and these five cottages became the Island View Cottages. These were Destin’s first rental cottages for tourists!
An ad in the Pensacola newspaper urged residents to “Spend Your Vacation Here!” The ad boasted that there were:
“Five modern cottages, fully equipped for every need of the summer vacationist. Situated on the shady shore of Choctawhatchee peninsula 100 yards from the open gulf. These cottages afford one the most attractive view of the Gulf Coast.”
The ad went on to say:
“Island View Cottages face East Pass, where Choctawhatchee Bay enters the gulf. The varied colors of the waters as the surf breaks over the bar presents a picture of nature unsurpassed anywhere on the coast. Fishing parties from other resorts of this section must pass these cottages to reach the Gulf fishing grounds. At the cottages, boats, both cruisers and small craft, are available.”
This was a time when less than 100 residents lived in the small fishing village of Destin. U.S. Highway 98 was being built as was the bridge from Destin to Santa Rosa Island (now called Okaloosa Island). By 1936 vacationers could drive their car from Pensacola all the way to Destin on the new road.
Today, Destin has a population of 12,305 (2010 census). On peak summer weekends the population easily climbs to 61,000, according to the Destin city planning department. Today, there are thousands of accommodations available in motels, hotels and condominiums for visitors. But back in the 1930s the first vacation destination at Destin had but five cottages for vacationers to enjoy.
Today, the property we discussed would be where the Coyote Ugly Saloon is located at 100 Harbor Blvd. It would have extended to the water, where the east tower for the zip line is located at HarborWalk Village.
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’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin" and "DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940." 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 directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.