First Settlers

Destin History

Destin, Florida is a treasure-trove of history, starting with archaeological artifacts that date back as far as 12,000 B.C! The landscape was much different 14,000 years ago considering that sea levels were between 20-30 feet lower, which put Destin much farther away from the coastline than what we know today. At the time, the only inhabitants of the area were Paleo-Indians, who were usually nomadic hunters and generally did not stay in one area very long. Local anthropologists have found evidence of their hunting tools, but nothing solid stating that they ever stayed for more than a season.

It wouldn’t be until around 600 A.D. that Native Americans finally settled the in the area. It is unclear which tribe settled the area first. There is evidence of Weeden Island Culture (south Florida), Mississippian Culture (Pensacola area), and several Cultures from the lower Alabama/Georgia area all residing together within the same time frame. Regardless of who got here first, it is clear that they decided to stay because of the abundant resources, especially the ample fishing spots. These cultures are the direct descendants to the modern tribes known as Miccosukee, Seminole, and Creek Nations.

Fun Fact: Fort Walton is just a short drive from Destin and is home to what is likely the largest Indian burial mound ever built on a saltwater coast. They believe that the Fort Walton Temple Mound was first built somewhere around the year 1,000 A.D. The temple at the top of the mount was re-constructed around 1976 to give visitors an idea of what the mound temple may have looked like back when Native Americans lived on the land.

There is also a museum on the property that is full of artifacts that were found within a 40-mile radius and date anywhere from the first Native dwellers, to civil war memorabilia from coastline skirmishes. While it is said that there are many other mounds in the area, the Fort Walton Temple Mound is the only that is open to the public. The locations of the others are undisclosed in hopes to deter looters.

Spanish Discovery

Hernando De Soto was a famous Spanish explorer who in 1539, landed a fleet of ships in south Florida near the Tampa area and organized an expedition to survey the Florida coastline for gold. It is possible that the expedition may have passed through what is now Destin before turning towards South Carolina. Unfortunately, this expedition (as well as other Spanish explorations and settlements) caused a dramatic decrease in the Native American population due to battles for land and the spread of diseases by the Spanish. There is no evidence of any European-Indian skirmishes happening near modern-day Destin, but due to trading, the tribes were exposed to foreign diseases and many did not survive the plagues.

Moreno Point

While under Spanish rule, the area that we now know as Destin was called Moreno Point and was considered an extension of Pensacola. It was named after Don Francisco Moreno who was born in 1792 and helped establish most of Escambia County. Moreno was a businessman and a savvy realtor who bought and sold property along the western coast of Florida, including Moreno Point.

Fun Fact: Don Francisco Moreno married 3 times, had 27 children and 127 grandchildren! That’s not a typo, he really had 27 children!

The Town of East Pass

In 1842, Moreno Point was officially designated a military reservation and renamed Moreno Point Military Reservation. By 1850 several families began to settle the area. One of the most notable settlers was Leonard Destin of New London, Connecticut who would eventually be indirectly responsible for town’s name. Leonard Destin had fished along the gulf for many years before finally settling along the coast. It was only a few years later that Destin would happen to stumble across the small peninsula labeled “East Pass”.

Destin and his crew were able to establish a profitable business by selling the fish they caught at East Pass to Warren Fish Co. in Pensacola.  The area began to grow, and Destin decided to permanently establish a home in Moreno Point. He soon married Martha McCollum, the eldest daughter of the first family to migrate to Moreno Point Military Reservation. By this time, anyone who knew of the area was calling it East Pass.

Destin Gets its Name

In 1896, nearly twenty years after the death of the Leonard Destin, a close friend and former employee named William Marler applied to become the first Postmaster of East Pass. His application was sent back, stating that the town be given a shorter name, one that would not easily be confused with other towns. That is when Marler decided to name the town “Destin”.

Fun Fact: Many of the first families that settled in the Destin/Fort Walton area did not own their land. Technically they were squatters on government land. It wasn’t until 1909 that the government decided to lease the properties. By 1926, there was no longer a need for a military reservation in that area and began to auction the land piece by piece, allowing the “squatters” the ability to purchase the land they had been living on for nearly 50 years.

Short Lived Seclusion

Destin Boats

After the Department of War auctioned off every piece of Moreno Point, roads began to be built to Destin, including a bridge connected to Santa Rosa Island. Once the bridge was completed in 1936, the proverbial floodgates were open, and it took less than 10 years for the meager fishing community of Destin to turn into a city filled with people of all types.

People from all over the country were attracted to the now popular vacation spot. Residents began to take notice the effect that tourism had on their economy by the mid 1940’s and started organizing events to bring more people to the area. The most famous event being the first Destin Fishing Rodeo in 1948, which continues to this day.

As more condominiums and hotels sprout up along the coastline in the 1970’s, the need for government became more apparent.  In 1984, the City of Destin officially became a municipality. Destin now has the largest fleet of fishing vessels in the state of Florida and is considered “The Luckiest Fishing Village in the World”. Whoever coined that phrase, sure hit the nail on the head.

And the rest is history…

Plan Your Trip!

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