How did Destin officially become Destin?
The land area we know as Destin today has had a number of names over the years.
It was known as Moreno Point on maps in the late 1700s. Then in 1842, the War Department acquired all 5,958.20 acres of Township 2 South, Range 22 West (Destin) by Presidential Executive Order and named it Moreno Point Military Reservation. In 1852, when Captain Leonard Destin permanently settled in the area, he named it East Pass after the inlet that gave him an entrance to Choctawhatchee Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. That inlet made the area a great fishing location. In our History Mystery this month you will learn exactly when, how and who changed the area’s name from East Pass to Destin.
Leonard Destin was born in New London, Connecticut, on Aug. 31, 1813, and came from a family of whalers and fishermen. On May 29, 1851, 37-year-old Leonard married 16-year-old Martha McCullom, who was already living at Moreno Point with her family. They were from South Carolina and were probably the first white settlers in the area. A small fishing village was established. On July 25, 1884, Leonard Destin passed away and was laid to rest in the Marler Memorial Cemetery at 145 Calhoun Avenue in Destin.
After Leonard Destin’s death, one of his fishing hands, William T. Marler (who was known as Billy and in later years as Uncle Billy), took a leadership role in the small fishing village. He encouraged the rest of the Marler clan, who were living in Boggy, today known as Niceville, to come over to East Pass and join him in the newly formed fishing village. Initially, the Destin, Woodward and Marler families formed the nucleus of the village as permanent settlers. Others came from St. Andrew, Point Washington, and Pensacola during the fishing season and lived in what was called “fish camps.”
Billy did what needed to be done in the small fishing village. He became the local notary public, the undertaker, and the first postmaster in 1896. He even tended the Range Lights at the mouth of East Pass and ran a store out of his home. Billy submitted the application to the Post Office Department to establish a post office at East Pass on March 26, 1896. On the application, William Marler, Destin’s first postmaster stated that the proposed post office would be located at East Pass, Washington County, Florida.
The application asked that that applicant “Select a short name for the proposed post office, which, when written will not resemble the name of any other post office in the state.” William Marler initially chose the only name he had ever known the area to be called, East Pass.
The Post Office Department was not happy with the name he chose. The initial application was returned for additional information. The applicant was asked to “Select new name of one word.” The area was known as East Pass, but William Marler selected “Destin” as the best single word name he could think of for the new post office.
Of course, Destin was the name of William Marler’s first employer and the man that initially established fishing as the primary industry of the small village.
Federal government bureaucracy, the request on the returned application for the establishment of a post office to change the name of East Pass to a one-word name, prompted the name change from East Pass, Florida to the name we know today, Destin, Florida.
When the post office in Destin started in 1896 it basically served three families – the Destin, Woodward, and Marler families. Initially, it operated out of the parlor in William Marler’s home. Eventually, Marler built a small building on his property that became the full-time post office from 1934 to 1951.
That original building can be seen today as an exhibit at the Destin History & Fishing Museum.
William T. Marler continued to serve as postmaster until March 10, 1945, when he retired at the age of 79.
Destin didn’t actually have a formal city government until 1984 when the voters incorporated the city of Destin. However long before that, William T. Marler single-handedly named the community Destin, and volunteered to manage much of its needed business, including its post office.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker. He visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - 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, The Destin History & Fishing Museum, in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, Magnolia House Gifts at Grand Boulevard, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at email@example.com.