A reader recently asked me which hospital I went to before there were cars, paved roads, and bridges connecting Destin to Panama City and Pensacola. In our historical mystery this month, he examines how people living in Destin got their health care a century ago, before the roads and bridges connecting Destin to the mainland.
Destin was a very small fishing village before 1940. In fact, according to the Federal Census, only 166 people lived in Destin in 1930. It didn’t have enough population to feed hospitals and doctors. From 1851, when Leonard Destin first arrived at his point Moreno, Destin was like an island in itself, until the construction of the bridge and road (Highway 98) in the late 1930s. The people who live there just had to make do.
The first doctor I found living in the area was Dr. McGriff, who lived in Bogie (now Niceville). An article in the Okaloosa News-Journal (Crestview 9 April 1920): A lame boy in a lumber mill said: His right hand was sawed off and Dr. McGriff discovered that his index finger had to be amputated, but saved his thumb and other fingers.
Dr. McGriff was a doctor my wife’s eldest brother, Glen Marler, often referred to. Glenn’s father, Clarence Marler, and his uncle, John Melvin, traveled by boat to Niceville to bring Dr. was Aunt Bel Martezo had to give birth to Glenn. Glenn’s father said his birth cost the family “two cans of his Albert smoking Prince cigarettes and his $5.”
The first hospital in Okaloosa County was built in Crestview in 1928 by Dr. Orin Oliver Enzor. This was his two-story brick building, located on Route 90, called Enzor Brothers Hospital. It was run by Dr. Orin Enzor and his brothers Dr. Justus O. Enzor, Dr. Rhett Enzor, and his nephew Dr. Allen O. Enzor.
Dr. Olin Oliver Enzor (often called Dr. OO) gave birth to his wife’s other brother, Clarence Olin Marler, at his hospital in Crestview on October 10, 1934. His wife’s sister Cherriet also gave birth in 1943). At the time, Crestview was a day trip from Destin. Clarence and his Gladys Marler were so impressed with Dr. Enzor and the hospital that they named his new son after his OO Dr. Olin middle name. the doctor who gave birth to him. This was the Mahler family’s first hospital birth.
My wife, Gladys Muriel (Mahler) Klein, was born at home in Destin. In 1939, Aunt Bessie Walls gave birth to her and gave her the middle name Muriel, which she has used all her life.After her parents died, her wife gave birth to the bed in which she was born. Got it. We cherish that bed and keep it in Shalimar’s Bob Hope in her Village home. Early settlers in the small fishing village of Destin lacked modern conveniences such as a local doctor and a local hospital.
Yes, in the early days Destin was a remote fishing village where people just did what they could. Most of the children were born at home with the help of midwives who were neighbors or relatives.
The first “local” doctors arrived in downtown Fort Walton (before it was called Fort Walton Beach) in 1946. Dr. Henry C. White opened a clinic at his home on Brooks Street. He and his family lived on his second floor so he could answer calls 24 hours a day. In 1952, Dr. Joseph C. Wilson, a medical school classmate and friend, joined Dr. White and the foundation of White’s Wilson Clinic was formed. As a matter of fact, my wife’s father, Clarence Lee Mahler, and my wife, Muriel Mahler, worked in Dr. White’s practice on Brooks Street in the 1950s.
In 1977, the clinic built a facility on Marr Walt Drive, which still operates as the main campus of White Wilson Medical Center. Over the next few years, satellite practices opened in Crestview, Defniak Springs, Niceville, Navarre and even Destin.
Today Destin is a big city. There are many clinics and medical facilities to care for locals and many visitors. However, as you can see, that wasn’t always the case. Until the late 1940s, Destin was a remote area, with no clinic closer than Niceville and no hospital closer than Crestview.
HC “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author and local history speaker. He lives in Shalimar’s Bob His Hope Village with his wife (former Destin’s Muriel Mahler). Klein recently published two Destin history books. “Destin His Pioneer Settlers…History of the Destin, Florida Land from 1819 to His 1940” and “Destin’s Founding Father…Leonard His Destin Untold Story.” Both are available 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. You can contact Klein firstname.lastname@example.org.