Harboring a Heritage in Destin, Florida
July 9, 2015 by Richard Olivarez
In the grand scheme of things, Destin is a young city - both physically and at heart. In fact, Destin didn’t officially become a municipality until 1984. Just prior to that, the first condominiums began to rise from Destin's sandy shores. Today, it’s hard to imagine the intimate piece of paradise unadorned by its prestigious tourism industry.
For most of its life, our western neighbor Destin was known simply for fabulous fishing and amazing beaches. Before the renown, Destin was a simple place, and traces of its heritage can still be experienced first hand.
Strolling along the Destin Harbor (even in the shadow of its modern artifices), it’s easy to let your imagination meander back to a time when the first settlers arrived on our shores. In 1845, the town's namesake, Captain Leonard Destin, arrived from New London, Connecticut. What he discovered was a nearly uninhabited place to call home. And while the land was abundantly beautiful, it was sparse as farming was nearly impossible. It’s a good thing Destin wasn’t a farmer – he was a Captain, and the bounty he discovered was in our waters.
For more than 150 years, fishing remained the dominant industry of Destin Harbor. Although it has taken a backseat to tourism, it still maintains the largest private charter fishing fleet in the State of Florida. Initially unknown to Captain Destin and his crew of founding fishermen, a 100-fathom curve is within easy reach of the Harbor and provides unparalleled angling opportunities. Many of these boats are owned and staffed by descendants of some of the original founding families, making recreational fishing one of the best opportunities to net a little history.
For those who prefer their history from the safety of the shore, this may best be experienced at the Destin History and Fishing Museum – which is just a short walk from the Harbor. This collection of vintage photographs and artifacts comes together to paint a picture of a coastal frontier town built on hard work and with passion.
To really connect with Destin’s history, take a moment to speak with the Associate Director of the Museum, Kathy Marler-Blue. She’s a descendant of W.T. Marler - who fished alongside Captain Destin over a century ago (although she refers to Marler as “Uncle Billy”). Hearing her tell the stories of “Uncle Billy’s” feats and accomplishments is as rich a treasure as anything you will find buried along the shores.
While the Destin Harbor no longer resembles a nascent seafaring community, it’s now the vibrant hub of the Emerald Coast and its founding influences are far reaching. When you’re strolling HarborWalk Village, enjoying fresh seafood along the docks or heading out on the water for a little adventure – take a moment to reflect on the fishermen who weren’t afraid of a little hard labor and laid the groundwork for a town that is now (not a little ironically) an idyllic refuge from just that.