History Mystery: The town of Shalimar was almost Port Dixie

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

The town of Shalimar almost didn’t exist and Destin’s East Pass as we know it was almost moved to the middle of Santa Rosa Island. Our History Mystery this month is about the proposed 1923 town site of Port Dixie on Choctawhatchee Bay. 

Shown in the 1923 map is the proposed town site of Port Dixie. This area is today what we know as Shalimar, Florida. However, Shalimar wasn’t even a dream in 1923, but Port Dixie was. Port Dixie was “A grandiose scheme which had the ingredients of a great hoax” as stated in the book, A History of Okaloosa County. 

Hank Klein

It was proposed to be an extraordinary commercial-industrial complex on Garnier’s Bayou and Choctawhatchee Bay and was to be chartered as the Port Dixie Harbor and Terminal Company. The venture was dependent on two things. First, East Pass was to be moved (as shown in the map above) and dug to a depth of 20 feet so it could accommodate large sea-going vessels. Secondly, a railroad extension was to be constructed from Crestview to the new site of Port Dixie. 

Had the Port Dixie scheme been successful and the new East Pass actually dug that would have been the end of the old East Pass, and today boats would have to go about halfway down what today we call Okaloosa Island to enter the inlet from Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Port Dixie project had a price tag of $17,000,000. The president of the organization who proposed the scheme was General Albert Clayton Dalton, a retired Army brigadier general, who once headed the United States Shipping Board. General Dalton had a summer home in Hampton, Georgia, and stated that Port Dixie would be a “company town,” with a modern seaport and railway terminal. 

Map showing a proposed site for Port Dixie in 1923.

Plans included the construction of docks, warehouses, railroad terminal yards, and industrial sites, including a shipbuilding plant, tire plant, a realty company, and a nightclub. There would have also been a town of Port Dixie which would have included residential facilities for the families of the industrial population. The backers were financiers from Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. 

In a report to Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers stated that there were 32 residents in Destin and 223 residents in Garnier Bayou and Camp Walton Resort in 1925. The Corps decided that the plan to dredge a new East Pass to a depth of 20 feet to accommodate sea-going vessels was not feasible. That decision plus the stock market crash in 1929 and the nationwide depression of the 1930s stopped the plans for Port Dixie cold! 

The town we know as Shalimar, Florida today was started by Clifford Meigs in the early 1940s. He developed a community of 160 houses to be used as housing for military officers. Said to mean "by the beautiful water," Shalimar became the lovely home – although often only for a short time – of dozens of military and, later, civilian families. 

In the 1940s, few thought Meigs’ plan to develop military housing would be a prosperous one. 

An article in the November 12, 1959, Playground Daily News (what is now the Northwest Florida Daily News), quotes Meigs as saying, "I furnished the land and another fellow did the buildings…it was a gamble, though. People said I was crazy to build houses way out here in the woods and that the base would fold up as soon as the war was over, and I would be left with empty houses on my hands. But it didn’t work out that way, and the 160 houses I had constructed stayed rented all the time." Meigs turned his gamble into a success. 

Destin’s old East Pass continued to be used until 1929 when a period of spring rains from March 12-15, 1929, caused the Choctawhatchee Bay to rise by five feet. The rising water threatened the residents of Destin’s docks and homes. That threat caused the local fishermen to take matters into their own hands and four of them dug a small trench across Santa Rosa Island to let the water out of the bay. The next morning nature caused that trench to open into a new inlet 100 yards wide, and that was the beginning of the East Pass we have today. 

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker on local history. He lives in Bob Hope Village in Shalimar with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 and DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, The Destin History & Fishing Museum in Destin, Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at klein@aristotle.net.