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Saint Rose: How Santa Rosa Beach Got Its Name

February 7, 2010 by Brenda Rees

The Spanish began naming towns, rivers and bays, usually after Saints, as they explored and colonized Florida in the 16th Century. In the 17th Century, following Saint Rose’s death and Sainthood, the Spanish name a major bay in what is now the Walton County, Florida area “Santa Rosa Bay” and publish the name on maps of Florida.

The name was changed by the British around 1778 to Choctawhatchee Bay. Thus, the longtime Spanish name of Santa Rosa Bay became unknown to many contemporary residents and visitors to South Walton and Florida.

During the American Revolution, the British have control of West and East Florida, their 14th and 15th colonies. British soldiers were marching from the capital of West Florida, Pensacola, to St. Augustine, the capital of East Florida. Elba Wilson Carswell said in his book, “Tempestuous Triangle” that the Stuart-Purcell map developed during this march changed the name to Choctaw Hatchee.

Carswell said it might have been a name misunderstanding. The bay had also been known as the Chacta-Hatchi after the Chatots, not Choctaw. Swanton also mentions this in his book “The Indian Tribes of North America.” The Spanish get Florida back for the last time after the Americans win their independence from the British.

Spain maintains control until Florida is wrested from them by the United States of America. Florida became a U.S. territory. Andrew Jackson shows up in 1821 to be the Governor of the Floridas and George Walton, Jr., our Walton County namesake, arrives to be Secretary of State for West Florida. Walton County is formed just a few years later, Dec. 29, 1824.

Per my research, United States postal records show Santa Rosa as the named post office in 1910. The Santa Rosa Beach post office is named on April 1, 1955 from Santa Rosa.

Many older beach communities in the area did not use this address at this time. For example, Pt. Washington had its own post office. Many Eastern Lake residents, for example, used Pt. Washington as their postal address.
Older Historical Communities in the Santa Rosa Beach Area
There are other historical communities in South Walton that are older than the 1910 platted Santa Rosa Plantation. Currently many of the older communities use the Santa Rosa Beach address as it is the area's official U.S. Post Office, while they maintain their historical identity. Pt. Washington, for instance, had a U.S. Post Office and many in the Eastern Lake area used this address as late as the 1970s. The Pt. Washington Post Office was recently closed. I have an 1886 map that clearly shows Pt. Washington.

John Wesley had a land grant in Pt. Washington in 1895. His son William H. Wesley and wife Katie, had a land grant in the Eastern Lake area in 1903. Their plat had Pt. Washington listed.

1910 Camp Walton Postcard from Anna Smith Hollingsworth Reardon collection. Anna's great Uncle L.I. Smith was the owner of the Gulfview hotel and resort in Camp Walton. Camp Walton is in Walton County at this time, so would be part of "South Walton." Okaloosa County wasn't formed until 1915, half out of Walton County and half from Santa Rosa County. Interestingly, most of South Walton had gone to Washington County in 1825 and did not return to Walton until 1913. So, Santa Rosa would have been in Washington County in 1910 while Camp Walton was in Walton.

L.I. Smith owned a beach resort in Camp Walton. See my other history blogs, especially "Anna's Stories" for pictures and early postcards of 1908 and 1910. L.I. Smith and his nephew P.W. Smith had traveled to Grayton Beach in 1899. They permanently moved from South Dakota to Walton County in 1903. The Florida Chautauquas of 1901, 1902 and 1903 had attracted them to Walton County. In today's NWFL paper (3-22-2010), it quoted Van Ness Butler saying his family came in 1907. The Butlers and Smiths were both from South Dakota.

In an email and telephone conversation recently, another gentleman in the area said he has pictures and notes from his family being in the Santa Rosa area around 1860.

A lot of this area is also known as the Emerald Coast. Many places in Northwest Florida have used the descriptive name "Emerald Coast" for many years.

More post office notes:
Of course, Miramar Beach has a post office now for Sandestin area residents. Sandestin is in Walton County and not in Destin, Okaloosa County which has its own post office and is an incorporated city with specific borders.

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Brenda Rees

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