SoWal Spotlight: Coastal Heritage Preservation Foundation
July 11, 2011 by Gwen Break
Recording South Walton’s history is thankfully performed by a handful of dedicated people. The few remaining members of the Coastal Heritage Preservation Foundation love history and love keeping it alive.
The preservation effort began in the 1970s by Martha Cory, a resident of Grayton Beach. Cory wanted to renovate and preserve the unique character and architect of the SoWal quirky community. When she died, leadership was passed on to Colonel Bob Fleet, who later recruited Dick McCrite as president.
“At our height there were about 40 of us,” said Chick Huetell, current spokesman for the group. “Now there’s only about five of us.”
The last meeting for the group was four years ago.
From the small collection of photographs and papers Cory kept in a shoebox at her house, the foundation’s collection has grown to include maps, books and items recovered at various locations throughout South Walton.
Tom Stanton at Oyster Lake, circa June 1952
Many are on display at the Coastal Branch Library. Funds for display hardware and other needs have been provided by the Friends of the Library. The dream is for the foundation to have its own museum capable of housing all its assets at the library.
Because of space limitations many of the foundation’s artifacts are stored in other locations. A Spanish breastplate found on the beach by the Butler family is in Tallahassee. Pottery shards and other Indian artifacts are at the Fort Walton Beach Indian Mound. Other items are in Pensacola and Valparaiso.
“We are the oldest continuous heritage society in South Walton,” said Huetell.
The foundation’s collection is a treasure trove of information for archeologists and historians who come from throughout the state to peruse the collection. Maps, books, government records and personal accounts of times past are available for review and study. Photographs are kept in a locked cabinet and can be viewed only with prior permission.
Do you have photos, letters, maps or other items depicting life in South Walton? The Coastal Heritage Preservation Foundation needs your donations. Contact the Coastal Branch Library for more information at (850) 267-2809.
One of the foundation’s current projects is to comply with a request from the Smithsonian Institute in helping locate Odom-Turnlee pottery in the Know Hill area in mid Walton County.
“This is the first recorded white man’s pottery,” explained Huetell.
Its estimated location is marked on a map tacked to the wall with different colored dots. Some indicate known locations, such as the Indian burial mound off Mack Bayou Road, the third or fourth largest of its kind.
Other locations in need exploration are marked with different colored dots. “They are recorded in books but have been lost,” said Huetell.
A third colored dot indicates locations mentioned in folklore but as yet unsubstantiated by actual evidence. People can input GPS coordinates and be part of the search for Walton’s history.
Walton County’s was not highly populated until the late 1890s when the turpentine and timber industry were booming. The foundation has printed menus from steamboats that ferried people and cargo from Pensacola to Santa Rosa Beach during this era.
The first mention of people living in South Walton is in a census record from 1840-1860. The enumerator charged with counting residents in South Walton writes he only found one cabin in the wilderness.
Stories abound in the collection from pirates of yesteryear to recent happenings.
“Kids and grandkids bring us stuff in boxes,” said Huetell. “Stuff doesn’t have to be really old to be useful.”
Volunteers are urgently needed to help catalog. Donations of items and cash are always welcome. To offer either, contact the Coastal Branch Library at (850) 267-2809. You too can be part of Walton County’s history.
Dune Allen, date unknown but most likely October 1975, the aftermath of Hurricane Eloise. Labeled as “McKinnon, Gerljanian, Turner, Mathewson-Ruckel, Breen-Allen-Allen.”
From Susan Lucas as donated to the Coastal Heritage Preservation Foundation: A house at Dune Allen destroyed by Hurricane Eloise, October 1975.