Destin’s Founding Father: Who Was Leonard Destin?
If you’ve ever vacationed on the Emerald Coast, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard the name “Leonard Destin.” The namesake for the city of Destin, Florida, Leonard founded “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” way back in the 1850s. Leonard Destin led a fascinating life filled with adventure, heartache, and more than a few brushes with death. To help you prepare for your next vacation, the Henderson Park Inn has put together a brief biography of Destin’s founding father.
Leaving New London
Leonard Destin was born into a fishing family in New London, CT around 1815. Together with his father George and his brothers Nathan and William, young Leonard would spend his days off the coast of Connecticut, reeling in fresh catches.
During the off-season, the Destins would sometimes sail down to the Florida coast to fish and salvage wrecks that had been damaged by hurricanes. In late August 1835, the Destins took a fateful journey to Florida that forever altered the course of Leonard’s life.
Disaster at Sea
On September 15, 1835, the Destins encountered a hurricane off the east coast of central Florida. The vicious storm claimed the life of Leonard’s father and his older brother William (along with several other crew members), but Leonard and Nathan managed not to drown when their ship was wrecked. The brothers were marooned on a Florida barrier island for more than two months.
After being rescued, instead of returning to New London, Leonard traveled to New Orleans and served as a crew member on another fishing boat. Eventually, Leonard became the captain of his own boat and continued to fish around the Gulf of Mexico.
Putting Down Roots at Moreno Point
Leonard Destin’s travels eventually led him to a small peninsula located toward the western end of the Florida Panhandle. Taken with the area’s gorgeous emerald water and plentiful fishing, Destin decided to build his own camp on the peninsula. Destin and his crew established a profitable business, capturing schools of fish with seine nets and selling them to the Warren Fish Co. in Pensacola.
In 1851, Leonard married Martha McCullom of South Carolina, and the following year, the couple permanently moved to Moreno Point, a military reservation that was located in present-day Destin. Reflecting his Connecticut roots, Leonard designed his new home as a New England-style cottage.
A Close Call During the Civil War
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Florida Panhandle fell under Confederate control. Union forces blockaded the coast and received supplies and information from sympathetic Floridians.
During the war, Leonard Destin was arrested by the Confederates for being an alleged Union sympathizer and taken to DeFuniak Springs to be sentenced. The penalty for treason was typically death, but when the judge discovered that Destin was also a Freemason he couldn’t bring himself to have him hanged. Instead, Destin was held at DeFuniak Springs until the war ended.
After the war, Leonard returned to Moreno Point and his fishing business continued to thrive. As word of Destin’s success spread, more and more families started to move to the burgeoning village. Over time, the families intermarried and a tight-knit community was formed on the Emerald Coast.
Leonard Destin passed away in the mid-1870s, but it was not until 1896 that the peninsula became known as “Destin.” As the story goes, William “Uncle Billy” Marler was filling out paperwork to become the community’s first postmaster, and the form required that the town be given an official name. Billy decided to name the village after his best friend and first employer, Leonard Destin.
Today, Leonard Destin’s descendants still live in town, including his great-great-grandson Dewey, who owns Dewey Destin’s Seafood & Restaurant. In August 2018, construction began on Captain Leonard Destin Park, a $5 million public park where Leonard and Martha’s historic homestead once stood.
Where to Stay in Destin
When you stay at the Henderson Park Inn, you will have the perfect home base for enjoying everything the city of Destin has to offer. Located adjacent to Henderson Beach State Park, our adults only inn has been voted the most romantic hotel in America by the users of About.com and TripAdvisor.com. We are also proud to hold the Conde Nast Johansens Award for Excellence. To start planning your getaway, browse our selection of Destin hotel rooms!