In last month’s History Mystery we discovered that the current property containing 3.4 acres where The Trust for Public Land will build the Captain Leonard Destin Park is only a small part of the 19.74 acres that was once the original home site of Leonard and Martha Destin before it was divided among the male children. Our History Mystery this month will look a little deeper into the property used by the founding father at what was called Moreno Point Military Reservation. When Leonard settled here permanently in 1852 and started his small fishing village he called East Pass, and that we now call Destin.
Lot 11, Lot 12 and Lot 13 - the land from the Marler Memorial Bridge to the Taylor Park, was once used by Destin’s founding father. However, according to the Agriculture Schedule of the 1880 Federal Census for Washington County, the property that Leonard Destin considered his was easily more than three times larger than those 19.74 acres.
When the census taker, William Miller, visited Leonard Destin on June 3, 1880, to take the federal census, he asked a number of questions in order to complete the forms required that year of all citizens by the federal government. Those citizens growing crops were also asked questions on Schedule 2 – Production of Agriculture. From the answers to those questions we can learn a lot about the size of Leonard Destin’s property, what major crops he was growing, and information about his livestock.
According to the 1880 Agriculture Census Schedule, Leonard Destin had 30 acres of tilled land in cultivation. In 1879, he had the following acreage and crops:
• 5 acres planted in corn that yielded 60 bushels of harvest.
• Canadian peas that yielded him 50 bushels of harvest.
• 3 acres planted in sweet potatoes that yielded 300 bushels of harvest.
• 8 acres containing 250 peach trees had yielded 200 bushels of harvest. The value of his orchard’s crop was $100.
• The value of produce from his garden that was sold in 1879 totaled $50.
• As of June 1, 1880, he also had the following farm animals: three horses or mules, 50 swine, and 50 barnyard chickens that produced 100 eggs.
Additionally, he had 40 acres of woodlands and forests that he claimed – which made a total of 70 acres listed in the 1880 Federal Census. The 30 acres of tilled land (including the peach orchard that was probably on the bay side from where the Marler Memorial Bridge is today to the Marler Memorial Cemetery. The 40 acres of woodlands and forest was probably also on the bay side, from the cemetery to what is today called the Marler Bayou.
The 1880 Agricultural Census Schedule was a printed form with preprinted headings. The census taker asked predetermined questions that were general in nature of all farmers whether they were commercial growers and sold their harvest or simply had a family farm and consumed all or most of the harvest. Remember, in 1880 we were an agricultural society and most folks grew their own food.
In chapter 16 of my recently published book about the life of Leonard Destin, “DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin,” there is a lot more information about what life was like in 1881 for the Destin family.
Leonard and Martha’s seventh child, 11-year old Martha Fannie Destin, kept a daily diary as part of her education. It helped her learn how to read, write and express herself. In this diary, the original of which is maintained in the history room of the Panama City Library, we can learn a lot about what daily life was like for the Destin family in 1881.
The diary contains daily entries from April 28 to July 15, 1881. Besides her lessons taught by her visiting aunt, Ellen (Destin) Hempstead, there is information about the weather, the winds and rain, meals consumed, laundry washed, clothes sewing, trips to Boggy (Niceville today) to get their mail, visitors, her father’s catch of fish each day, fish selling in Pensacola, and their garden. While a 30-acre garden may seem a little extreme to us today, it was needed to sustain their large family and the fishing hands that worked for Leonard Destin during fishing season.
Fannie Destin talks in her daily diary about many crops that do not appear in the standard census records. She mentions crops like mulberries, blackberries, turnip greens, plums, figs, potatoes, peanuts, and watermelon.
Thanks to The Trust for Public Land, the Captain Leonard Destin Park will be a great historic addition to the city of Destin. Locals and visitors alike will learn about the founding father of Destin – Captain Leonard Destin – on the actual property that contained the home he built for his wife and family. However, as we have learned, those 3.4 acres, while important to the history of Destin, are just a small part of the 70 acres that Leonard Destin originally called his home.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin - DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin and DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.