Tony Mennillo, historian extraordinaire, publishes simply the best pictorial history books of our coastal history.

One of the most admired historians in the Destin and Fort Walton area has come out with his third wonderful book, “Salty Memories along the Coastal Highway.” Tony Mennillo had the foresight to compile his dad’s marvelous photos of early Fort Walton and Destin, coupled with archival advertising and old post cards of the area. The photos cover a range of years from the 1940s to now. And what joy it is to look back to the days before tall condos.

I first met Tony at the Walton County Coastal Branch Library years ago where the Coastal Heritage Preservation Society has its display and archives. He graciously let us use some of his photos for various functions.

What makes Tony Mennillo exceptional is that most of us pile old photos and negatives in boxes and store them only to be thrown away as grandchildren “clean out” grandma and grandpa’s old stuff. Seeing the historic treasure his dad recorded on film, he compiled the stacks and stacks of pictures in a time line of how the area evolved. He took it upon himself to bear the cost of the first book in 1998 entitled, “Destin, Florida: Highway to Heaven.” It took years of preparation.

Now, fortunately for all of us, he has again completed a new pictorial book. It was a massive undertaking because this time it took him nine years to complete.

Now those of us who remember those early days can again take a trip back in time and remember once more the places that had special meaning.

When I saw Tony recently, he gave the Coastal Heritage a copy of the new book and to my great surprise he informed me that another work is in progress. Only this time it will be of a historical context and not the classic photos. His forthcoming book has been a hunt into yellow-stained records, leather-bound chronicles, and heritage registers of the earliest of times. He begins when the founding fathers of our area arrived in the United States by sailing vessels and boiler-exploding steamboats.

His books can be found at Sundog Books in Seaside, and also purchased through the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation in Destin. What he plans to do with actual negatives and prints, I’m not sure. Hopefully they will stay in our area. So much has gone to Tallahassee.  I often wonder if we will ever get items back when the time comes for a first-class heritage center and museum for our region.

Congratulations Tony, and we await the next endeavor.

Fair winds to ye matey.

Chick Huettel is a long-time Walton County resident, writer and artist and a former TDC advisory committee member.