A reader recently asked where the folks went to the doctor before there were cars, paved roads and a bridge connecting Destin to Panama City and Pensacola. Our History Mystery this month will look into how those living in Destin got medical attention a century ago, before there were roads and a bridge connecting Destin to the mainland.
Destin, Florida was a very small fishing village prior to 1940. In fact the Federal census shows that in 1930 there were only 166 individuals living at Destin. That was not a large enough population to support a hospital or even a doctor. From 1851 when Leonard Destin first arrived at Moreno Point until the bridge and road (US Highway 98) were built in the late 1930s, Destin was like an island unto itself. Folks living there just had to make do.
The earliest doctor I was able to find living in the area was Doctor McGriff who lived in Boggy (now Niceville). An article in the Okaloosa News Journal (Crestview April 9, 1920) was titled: Boy Crippled in Sawmill, stated “A 12 or 13 old son of S. S. Spence met with a painful accident in his father’s sawmill, at Niceville, last Thursday. His right hand was cut by a saw, and Dr. McGriff found it necessary to amputate the forefinger but saving the thumb and other fingers.”
Dr. McGriff is the same doctor that my wife’s oldest brother, Glen Marler, often mentioned. Glen’s father, Clarence Marler, and Uncle John Melvin had gone to Niceville by boat to fetch Dr. McGriff to deliver Glen when he was due to be born on September 29, 1924. They didn’t return in time, so mid-wife Aunt Belle Maltezo had to deliver Glen. Glen’s father told him that his birth had cost the family “two cans of Prince Albert smoking tobacco and $5.00.”
The first hospital in Okaloosa County was built in Crestview by Doctor Olin Oliver Enzor in 1928. It was a two-story brick building, located on highway 90 and called the Enzor Brothers Hospital. It was operated by Dr. Olin Enzor and his brothers, Dr. Justus O. Enzor, Dr. Rhett Enzor, and his nephew Dr. Allen O. Enzor.
Doctor Olin Oliver Enzor (Dr. O. O. as he was often called) delivered my wife’s other brother Clarence Olin Marler on October 10, 1934 in his hospital in Crestview (he also delivered my wife’s younger sister, Cherriet in 1943). Crestview was a one-day trip from Destin in those days. Clarence and Gladys Marler were so impressed with Dr. Enzor and the hospital that they named their new son after Dr. O. O. Olin was his middle name, but he went by the name of Olin his entire life, and he knew that his namesake was the doctor who delivered him. This was the first hospital delivery in the Marler family.
My wife, Gladys Muriel (Marler) Klein, was born at home in Destin. In 1939, Aunt Bessie Walls delivered her and gave her the middle name of Muriel, which she has used her entire life. After my wife’s parents passed away, my wife acquired the bed that she was actually born in. We cherish that bed and have it in our home in North Little Rock, Arkansas, as a reminder of what we (today) would consider the hard life those early settlers of the small fishing village of Destin had without modern conveniences like local doctors and local hospitals.
Yes, Destin was a remote fishing village in the early days, and folks just did what they could. Most children were born at home with the use of mid-wives who where their neighbors and relatives.
The first “local” doctor arrived in 1946, in downtown Fort Walton (before it was called Fort Walton Beach). Doctor Henry C. White set up his practice in a house on Brooks Street. He and his family lived upstairs so he could be on call 24 hours a day. In 1952, his medical school classmate and friend, Doctor Joseph C. Wilson joined Dr. White and the foundation of the White-Wilson Clinic was formed. As a matter of fact, my wife’s father, Clarence Lee Marler, and my wife, Muriel Marler, worked for Doctor White at his practice on Brooks Street in the 1950s.
In 1977, the clinic built a facility on Mar Walt Drive, which still operates as the main campus for White-Wilson Medical Center today. During the years that followed, satellite practices opened in Niceville, Navarre, and even Destin.
Today Destin is a large city. There are many doctor’s offices and medical facilities to care for the local population and our many visitors. However, as you can see it wasn’t always that way. Prior to the late 1940s, Destin was a remote area with no medical offices closer than Niceville and no hospital closer then Crestview.
C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin – 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, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, Dewey Destin’s Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org