History mystery: Here's why the Marler Memorial Cemetery doesn't bear the Destin family name

H. C. “Hank” Klein

DESTIN — From time-to-time folks ask why the old cemetery located at 145 Calhoun Avenue in Destin isn't called the Destin Cemetery, and why it's named after the Marler family and not the Destin family.

Leonard Destin started a fishing village at Moreno Point when he arrived here and married a local girl, Martha McCullom, in 1851. Many fishermen came and went depending on the season of the year during what is called the "Fish Camp Era."

History Mystery

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This cemetery was established in 1868 when Leonard Destin set aside some inland land about 200 yards east of his home to bury his son, William ‘Willie’ Destin, who died at the age of 10 on Aug. 1, 1868. Then five years later, the second tragedy struck the Destin family when their seven-year-old son, Gaines Destin, died on April 1, 1873. Both of the small gravestones of their sons are located very near and to the north of Leonard and Martha’s gravestones.


The second family to permanently settle at Moreno Point was the Marler family. Young William Thomas Marler came over from Boggy (now Niceville) in the early 1880s, when he was in his teens, to work for Leonard Destin. He also convinced his brothers, sisters, and mother to re-settle from Boggy to Moreno Point.

Gravestone of William Destin (1857- 1868)

William T. Marler’s father, Elisha Marler, lived and later died in Boggy. He was brought to Moreno Point to be buried in the cemetery, possibly by Leonard Destin. William had already permanently settled in Moreno Point and brought his newly widowed mother Sarah Rotincia (Lancaster) Marler to Moreno Point, after her husband died on April 4, 1884.

Leonard Destin, William T. Marler’s first employer and the founder of Destin, died just three months later on July 25, 1884, and William T. Marler took care of Leonard Destin’s burial next to his young sons who were buried there in 1868 and 1873. Since that time, this lot containing .36 acres has been used as the burial ground for hundreds of the early pioneer settler families of Destin.

Gravestone of Gaines Destin (1865 – 1873)

William T. Marler was known as "Billy" and, as he aged, as "Uncle Billy." There was no undertaker at Moreno Point. William T. Marler took on the responsibility of building coffins and the burying of anyone who died at Moreno Point in the community cemetery from 1884 until he died in 1960.

Gravestone of Gaines Destin (1865 – 1873)

Leonard Destin started the cemetery to bury his seven-year-old son in 1868 and took care of the cemetery for 16 years until his death in 1884. In 1884, William T. Marler took over the task of managing the cemetery for over 70 years until he died in 1960.

Walking the cemetery today and looking at the gravestones gives the visitor a good idea of who the very earliest settlers of Destin were. The gravestones showing deaths from 1910 and earlier are as follows:

  • · William ‘Willie” Destin, Dec. 11, 1857 - Aug. 1, 1868
  • · Gaines Destin, Dec. 26, 1865 - April 1, 1873
  • · Elisha Marler, 1819 – April 4, 1884
  • · Leonard Destin, Aug. 31, 1813 – July 25, 1884
  • · Martha J. Destin, March 3, 1835 – Dec.10, 1886
  • · David H. Marler, Oct. 17, 1878 – July 7, 1896
  • Lizzie (Destin) Porter, Feb. 25, 1852 – Nov. 16, 1899
  • Jane (Destin) Woodward, Aug. 1, 1855 – July 31, 1901
  • Fannie R. (Destin) Studebaker, Nov. 9, 1869 – March 3, 1902
  • Infant Daughter of Robert and Fannie Studebaker, March 2, 1902 – March 2, 1902
  • Carrie (Brooks) Marler, July 5, 1873 – April 16, 1903
  • Fred H. Woodward, Sr., May 3, 1849 – Nov. 2, 1908
  • William Marler, Jr., Nov. 1, 1908 – Nov. 15, 1908
  • Infant Son of George S. and Emma P. Marler. Aug. 25, 1910 – Sept. 1, 1910

Most all of the pioneer families to settle Moreno Point (later known as East Pass, then Destin) are buried in the Marler Memorial Cemetery. You will find most of the old family names in the cemetery, such as Destin, Marler, Woodward, Shirah, Melvin, Maltezo, O’Neal, Taylor, Hogeboom, Jones, Wells, Brunson, and Mikel.

So, you see, while it was Leonard Destin that chose the location, started the cemetery, and buried two of his sons here, it was William Thomas Marler who took over when Leonard Destin died in 1884 and maintained the cemetery for the next 70 years. He took the responsibility for the cemetery, built coffins, ordered gravestones, and handled the cemetery's burials.

Gravestone of Leonard Destin (1813- 1884)

In William T. Marler's will, he left the cemetery to the community. Upon his death in 1960, his estate which was settled by Thomas L. Marler and Nell Baker (his personal representatives), specified that the .36 acres which was known as Lot 14-D, Moreno Point was to be deeded to Marler Cemetery, Inc. This was accomplished on Jan. 29, 1979.

The cemetery has been maintained by a cemetery board ever since. While there continue to be burials in the Marler Memorial Cemetery, those burials are restricted to a member of the original families that settled in Destin before 1940.

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker on local history. He lives in Bob Hope Village in Shalimar with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 and DESTIN’S Founding Father … The Untold Story of Leonard Destin. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, The Destin History & Fishing Museum in Destin, Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at klein@aristotle.net.