History Mystery: Who founded the community just east of Destin?

Hank Klein
Special to Gannett
Hank Klein

We’ve all heard the story of Leonard Destin and his founding of the unique fishing village of Destin, Florida. Our History Mystery this month is about the family that started the farming community of Shoals, Florida, which was just east of Destin and is known as Miramar Beach today. 

The Haugen family was the first family to settle in Township 2-south, Range 21-west. Christoffer Larsen Haugen immigrated from Elgsaas, Norway in 1879. He had been a sea captain. Christoffer obtained a Patent Deed to Lot 1 in Section 19 on Dec. 20, 1904, which contained 67.66 acres. They arrived at least by 1899 as you had to live on and improve your land for five years before taking title. 

Hank Kline visits Haugen Park in Miramar Beach.

Christoffer was a citrus farmer, navigational light keeper on Choctawhatchee Bay, and boat builder. He died on May 26, 1950, and wanted to be buried on his property. His wife, Sara L. Haugen, the mother of the family had also been born in Norway. She died in the 1940s and was also buried on their property. 

Griffin (or Griffith) Haugen, the son of the family, had also been born in Norway. He died in the 1920s when he fell off his boat in a storm on Choctawhatchee Bay while tending to the navigational beacons on the bay. He was the first family member to be buried on their property in the 1920s. His internment was over 100 years ago. 

Ruth Louise Haugen was born in Florida on May 22, 1898 (probably on their homestead in Shoals), and she never married. 

Ruth Haugen - 1898 to 1968

Destin locals (my wife included) remember her well. She walked from their homestead in Shoals just across the Walton County line, to Destin to buy her groceries. Lloyd Taylor, who was a clerk in the Odem’s grocery store in the 1960s, remembers feeling sorry for Ruth and driving her back to her home in Shoals with sacks of groceries in his car. 

Ruth had never married, and after her father died, she took over his duties tending to the navigational beacons on the bay. When she retired, she received a pension from the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Ruth died on Aug. 15, 1968, and is buried on their property. When Ruth died so did the Haugen line. Their property lay abandoned for several years. I have spoken with several old timers from Destin who told me that after Ruth died the local boys would visit what they called the “Haunted House” which was vacant for years in the 1970s. 

As early as 1920, Christoffer L. Haugen, the first homesteader of Shoals, Florida, began burying his family members on their homestead. That was a pretty common practice in the early days. In 2000 the state of Florida designated the land a Historic Florida Cemetery. 

Haugen historical cemetery form.

The Haugen Family Cemetery is located in a bay front vacant lot in the Bayshore Gardens Subdivision, which is located off Walton Way in Miramar Beach. 

Today, there is a small remembrance of the first homesteader of Shoals, Florida, Christoffer Larsen Haugen. There is a bay front park named for the family. Haugen Park is located at 564 Shore Drive, Miramar Beach. It has a nice boardwalk along the bay and there is an informational sign which tells the story of the Haugen family. 

Not many folks know that Miramar Beach was once known as Shoals, Florida. Even less know about the first family to homestead in the area just east of Destin, where you could get free land from the U.S. Government to homestead when Destin was a Military Reservation. 

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.