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History Mystery: Why is the old cemetery called the Marler Memorial Cemetery?

Hank Klein
Gravestone of Elisha Marler 1819 – 1884.

From time to time folks ask why the old cemetery in Destin isn't called the Destin Cemetery. Another of the History Mysteries of Destin is why the old cemetery is named after the Marler family and not the Destin family.

The first permanent settler of Moreno Point was Leonard Destin who arrived in about 1840. There were many fishermen that came and went depending on the season of the year during what is called the "Fish Camp Era."

The second family to permanently settle Moreno Point was the Marler family. Young William Thomas Marler came over from Boggy (now Niceville) in the early 1880s, when he was in his teens, to work for Leonard Destin. He also convinced his brothers, sisters and mother to re-settle from Boggy to Moreno Point.

The cemetery was actually begun in 1884 by William T. Marler as a place for community burials. William T. Marler’s father, Elisha Marler, was the first to be laid to rest in the new cemetery on April 4, 1884.

While Elisha Marler lived and later died in Boggy, he was brought to Moreno Point to be buried by his oldest son. William had already permanently settled Moreno Point and brought his newly widowed mother Sarah Rotincia (Lancaster) Marler to Moreno Point, after her husband died.

William T. Marler’s first employer, Leonard Destin (the founder of Destin), was laid to rest in the cemetery, just three months later, on July 25, 1884. Since that time this lot containing .36 acres had been used as the burial ground for hundreds of the early pioneer settler families of Destin.

William T. Marler, was known as "Billy" and, as he aged, as "Uncle Billy." There was no undertaker at Moreno Point. William T. Marler took on the responsibility of building coffins and the burials of anyone who died at Moreno Point in his community cemetery.

Walking the cemetery today and looking at the gravestones gives the visitor a good idea of who the very early settlers of Destin really were. The gravestones showing deaths from 1910 and earlier are as follows:

Elisha Marler, 1819 – April 4, 1884

Leonard Destin, 1813 – July 25, 1884

Martha J. Destin, March 3, 1835 – December 10, 1886

David H. Marler, October 17, 1878 – July 7, 1896

Lizzie (Destin) Porter, February 25, 1852 – November 16, 1899

Jane (Destin) Woodward, August 1, 1855 – July 31, 1901

Fannie R. (Destin) Studebaker, November 9, 1869 – March 3, 1902

Infant Daughter of Robert and Fannie Studebaker, March 2, 1902 – March 2, 1902

Carrie (Brooks) Marler, July 5, 1873 – April 16, 1903

Fred H. Woodward, Sr., May 3, 1849 – November 2, 1908

William Marler, Jr., November 1, 1908 – November 15, 1908

Infant Son of George S. and Emma P. Marler. August 25, 1910 – September 1, 1910

Edward M. Knapp, August 14, 1871 – December 26, 1910

Most all of the pioneer families to settle Moreno Point (later known as East Pass, then Destin) are buried in the Marler Memorial Cemetery. You will find most of the old family names in the cemetery, such as: Destin, Marler, Woodward, Shirah, Melvin, Maltezo, O’Neal, Taylor, Hogeboom, Jones, Wells, Brunson, and Mikel. The Knapp burial, mentioned above, is an exception that we will discuss in another History Mystery article.

So you see it was William Thomas Marler who started this community cemetery in the late 1800s. The first burial in the cemetery was his father, Elisha Marler. William, for decades, took responsibility for the cemetery, built coffins and handled the cemetery's burials. In William T. Marler's will he left the cemetery to the community.

The cemetery was maintained by William T. Marler for over 70 years. Upon his death in 1960, his estate, which was settled by Thomas L. Marler and Nell Baker (his personal representatives), specified that the .36 acres which was known as Lot 14-D, Moreno Point was to be deeded to Marler Cemetery, Inc. This was accomplished on Jan. 29, 1979. The cemetery has been maintained by a cemetery board ever since. While there continue to be burials in the Marler Memorial Cemetery, those burials are restricted to members of the original families that settled Destin prior to 1940.

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 a historic book about Destin's pioneer settlers. DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 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, or Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at klein@aristotle.net.