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FORT WALTON BEACH
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About: The earliest people to settle in Fort Walton Beach were the Native Americans who had migrated from Asia across the Bering Sea and eventually followed the large animals to the southeast as they hunted new grazing areas. Projectile points found here testify to a BC time period of perhaps 12,000 years. Since that early time these nomads found that the area could support settled villages and skilled artisans, political rulers, and religious shamans.
The arrival of the Europeans in the period between 1500 and 1700 AD brought in conflicting cultures as alien settlers spread throughout the southeast. Additional conflict emerged with scattered bands of pirates in defiance of their mother country's policies. New resources and control of shipping provided rich rewards. A successful blend of European and Native American expertise is exemplified by Alexander McGillivary with the British Panton and Leslie Trading Company. His adversary, an active and effective pirate, was William Augustus Bowles whose exploits are celebrated each June, locally with the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival. By the early 1800's, the new American government had begin to settle in and establish its own political systems, religious orders, and craft techniques as the Indians had done at an earlier time. Andrew Jackson was Territorial Governor in 1821 and his aide was George Walton, son of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. An 1842 legislative act established two counties in the area, Santa Rosa and Walton. Even though the population was small, the Civil War generated patriotism and a small contingent organized to guard the Santa Rosa Sound entry to Pensacola. These men were called the Walton Guards, named for George Walton, and they camped in front of the large Indian Temple Mound in what came to be called Camp Walton.
Some of the guards are said to have returned after the Civil War and homesteaded. One of these early settlers was John Thomas Brooks, founder of Brooks Landing, which was later to become Fort Walton Beach. His first work was at a sawmill in Walton County but eventually he moved his family to the shore of Santa Rosa Sound near the old Indian mound where the Guards had camped. Most church services were conducted in settler's homes by itinerant preachers until a Catholic Church was built in 1914, followed in 1934 by a Protestant Community Chapel.
In 1915, another legislative act created Okaloosa County from within the two counties of Walton and Santa Rosa, placing Camp Walton in Okaloosa County. In 1932, the town was renamed Fort Walton. "Beach" was finally added in 1953 to assure visitors they were visiting a beach when they vacationed in Fort Walton Beach.
Land acquired by James E. Plew and his son-in-law, C.W. Ruckel, was developed into Eglin Air Force Base. In 1937, the base was named for Lt. Col. Fredrick Eglin, who had been stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base and had perished in a plane crash that same year. Shortly thereafter the base was officially designated as the Air Corps Proving Ground and the Choctawhatchee National Forest was transferred to the control of Eglin. New Deal money began to establish roads connecting the island and the mainland as one community. Missions at Eglin Air Force Base have been of paramount importance ever since. The whole area of more than 720 square miles is utilized to its best advantage.
The growth of Fort Walton Beach and the coastal area has included light industry, educational and cultural development, and of course, dramatic growth along the seashore and bay area with condominiums, apartments, and homes in a myriad of configurations.
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