Last month we learned that Okaloosa Island is actually only three miles long and is really just part of Santa Rosa Island, which runs from the old Destin East Pass to Pensacola Bay. The History Mystery for this month will discuss the Navarre Beach portion of Santa Rosa Island, and you will learn that Santa Rosa County does not actually own Navarre Beach, but leases it from Escambia County.

All of Santa Rosa Island and Destin were once military reservations from the early 1800s until they were declared surplus War Department property in 1926. All of Santa Rosa Island, except Fort Pickens, was purchased by Escambia County from the War Department on April 19, 1929, for $10,000.

Just to be clear that included the areas we know today as Holiday Isle, Okaloosa Island, Navarre Beach, and Pensacola Beach. In the July 1937 plat of the boundary line of Escambia and Okaloosa counties is clearly shown. The county line was where the southwestern most point of the current East Pass Lagoon is located. So clearly what we call Holiday Isle today was in Escambia County and was called Santa Rosa Island.

Then in February 1956, Santa Rosa County entered into a 99-year lease at a cost of $100 a year for four miles of Santa Rosa Island. Santa Rosa County named their four miles of the island Navarre Beach.

Provisions in the lease called for it to “construct a steel and concrete bridge, comparable to the present Sound bridge, at a place in the vicinity of Navarre, within a half-mile of a line bisecting the “Y” of State Road 87 projected southerly to Santa Rosa Island parallel to the east boundary of said Santa Rosa County…” A second provision stated that Santa Rosa County would “…complete a standard highway in accordance with specifications of, and acceptable to, the State Road Department of Florida from said new bridge to the west line of the demised premises as a part of a proposed road connecting the two bridges.

Construction of the Navarre Causeway Bridge began in 1960. In 1961, the Gulf Boulevard was completed. In 1965, the Navarre Pass was opened from Santa Rosa Sound into the Gulf of Mexico. The Navarre Pass was only open two months before Hurricane Betsy filled it back in with sand from the Gulf. The Navarre Pier was originally constructed in 1974 and today is the longest fishing pier in the state of Florida at 1,545 feet long.

So who owns Navarre Beach? It is clear that Escambia County actually owns the property but leases it long term to Santa Rosa County. Over the years there have been a number of proposals in the Florida Legislature for Santa Rosa County to actually purchase Navarre Beach from Escambia County. So far all of those proposals have failed to become law. Until a Florida state law is passed, Escambia County will continue to own that portion of Santa Rosa Island we call Navarre Beach.

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker. He visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - 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, The Destin History & Fishing Museum, in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, Magnolia House Gifts at Grand Boulevard, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at klein@aristotle.net.