Fort Walton Beach, Florida

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Fort Walton Beach is a city in southern Okaloosa County, Florida, United States. As of 2008, the population estimate for Fort Walton Beach is 18,880 recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau.[3] It is a principal city of the Fort Walton Beach–CrestviewDestin Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Fort Walton Beach is a year-round fishing and beach resort community. Its busiest time of the year is the summer, with spring break being another busy time when thousands of people flock to the Emerald Coast.

History

Prehistoric settlement of Fort Walton Beach is attributed to the mound building "Fort Walton Culture" that flourished from approximately 1100~1550 AD. It is believed that this culture evolved out of the Weeden Island culture. Fort also appeared to come about due to contact with the major Mississippian centers to the north and west. It was the most complex in the north-west Florida region. The Fort Walton peoples put in to practice mound building and intensive agriculture, made pottery in a variety of vessel shapes, and had hierarchial settlement patterns that reflected other Mississippian societies.

The first Europeans to set foot in what is now Okaloosa County and the Fort Walton Beach area were members of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's party, who traveled by boat from what is now Panama City Beach, Florida in 1528 to Texas, "Then we set out to sea again, coasting towards the River of Palms. Every day our thirst and hunger increased because our supplies were giving out, as well as the water supply, for the pouches we had made from the legs of our horses soon became rotten and useless. From time to time we would enter some inlet or cove that reached very far inland, but we found them all shallow and dangerous, and so we navigated through them for thirty days, meeting sometimes Indians who fished and were poor and wretched people".

The area is described at "Baixa de Baca" in a Spanish map dated 1566. In later English and French maps the area of was noted as "Baya Santa Rosa" or "Bay St. Rose". A number of Spanish artifacts, including a portion of brigantine leather armor, are housed in the Indian Temple Mound Museum.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no documentary evidence of pirates using the area as a base of operations. Piracy was rampant in the Gulf of Mexico from pirates working out of Hispaniola, the Caribbean, and the Florida Keys. Notable raids occurred in 1683 and 1687 against the Spanish fort at San Marcos de Apalachee (by French and English buccaneers), a 1712 raid against Port Dauphin (now Alabama) by English pirates from Martinique, and the actions of the late 18th-century adventurer William Augustus Bowles, who was based in Apalachicola. Bowles was never referred to as "Billy Bowlegs" in period documentation; his Creek name was "Eastajoca".

During the era of Spanish and English colonization, the area of what was to become Fort Walton Beach was noted in several journals but no worthwhile presence was established.

Early settlers of Walton County, Florida were the first to establish permanent settlements in what is now Fort Walton Beach (the area was originally named "Anderson"). One of the first settlers was John Anderson, who received land plots in 1838. The name "Anderson" is noted on maps from 1838 to 1884. It was not until 1911 that the name "Camp Walton" appeared on Florida maps.

In 1861, Camp Walton was a confederate military camp made up of the 1st Florida Regiment, which consisted of men from the Walton County Militia. At this time, Okaloosa County did not yet exist. Walton County received its name from Col. George Walton, who served as an aide under Andrew Jackson and whose father, George Walton Sr., was the 56th signatory of the Declaration of Independence. As a result of Col. Walton's influence in the politics of north-west Florida, his name was honored by establishing Walton County.

The 1st Florida regiment's camp was located in front of the Indian Temple Mound, now known as the Heritage Park and Cultural Center, and its mission was to protect the "Narrows" from Union ships. Although the 1st Florida Regiment did not see much action, they did keep busy by digging up prehistoric Indian remains buried in the Indian Temple Mound and displaying them at camp.

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