Shalimar Came to Pass
by Elizabeth Holland
In 1931, what was to be Shalimar and its thereabouts was an elaborate scheme of amazing proportions that captured the eye of many an investor and the attention of nearly all of Northwest Florida.
Port Dixie, it was called.
In A History of Okaloosa County by Henry Allen Dobson, the author referred to the Port Dixie development as "A grandiose scheme which had the ingredients of a great hoax."
It was to be an extraordinary commercial-industrial complex on Garnier’s Bayou and chartered as the Port Dixie Harbor and Terminal Company.
The optimistic venture depended on two things: the enlargement of Destin East Pass to accommodate large sea vessels and the construction of a railroad that would service the complex.
Following rampant rumors of the development’s birth and details of its far-flung facets – realty company, railroad, port, steamship lines, ship-building plant, tire plant, town site, night club – the complicated plan fell on its face.
"The Corps of Engineers decided that the plans to dredge Destin East Pass to accommodate deep-water vessels was not feasible," Dobson wrote. "It is not known for certain whether capital for the railroad was contingent upon a positive report by the Corps of Engineers on the pass proposal, or whether company was simply unable to finance the railroad. In any case, the project died, died with no obituary, no post-mortem."
Port Dixie was the first of many ventures to see unexpected change in the yet-to-be-named Town of Shalimar.
When Clifford Meigs started the town in the early 1940s, he developed a community of 160 houses to be used as housing for military officers. (Note: You can view some of the floor plans for these houses here).
Said to mean "by the beautiful water," Shalimar became the lovely home – although often only for a short time – of dozens of military and, later, civilian families.
A December 31, 1944 article in the Atlanta Journal reads, "Life beyond the ragged hammocks, the flat sage grassland and the blue waters becomes remote. The little community at Shalimar is a world of its own…and always there hangs the Damocles’ sword of ‘When will overseas orders arrive?’ The peace and beauty of the little hidden home spot is made more poignant because of this constant apprehension."
In the 1940s, few thought Meigs’ plan to develop military housing would be a prosperous one.
An article in the November 12, 1959, Playground News (what is now the Northwest Florida Daily News), quotes Meigs as saying, "I furnished the land and another fellow did the buildings…it was a gamble, though. People said I was crazy to build houses way out here in the woods, that the base would fold up as soon as the war was over, and I would be left with empty houses on my hands. But it didn’t work out that way, and the 160 houses I had constructed stayed rented all the time." Meigs turned his gamble into a success.
But not until gambling of another sort prompted the issue, did Shalimar incorporate.
Florida law prevented clubs in unincorporated areas from staying open from 12 a.m. Saturday until Monday morning, according to the Playground News of 1959. That could mean trouble for the famed Shalimar Club owned by Roger Clary and described in A History of Okaloosa County as a "sumptuous" spot.
Best known for its gambling, Dobson wrote, the club’s opening "was the social event of 1947." But because its home wasn’t incorporated, the club’s existence was threatened.
"The Fort Walton Beach places were doing a booming business on the weekends while there were rumors that the sheriff might enforce the law in Shalimar and close the place there," Meigs told the Playground News. "The owner came to me and suggested incorporation, and while I didn’t think I had much to gain then, I agreed. With only about three other freeholders in the area, it was a simple matter to get incorporated."
Although helped by the Town’s incorporation in 1947, the Shalimar Club and other gambling hotspots didn’t fare well for too long.
"The collapse of Okaloosa gambling was brought about by the glare of outside publicity, reform zeal from within and the direct intervention of Governor Fuller Warren. The first wind of adversity was blown in by the Tampa Tribune’s expose of gambling in Fort Walton," Dobson wrote.
Despite such glitches, Shalimar began to build its own character, much of which came from Meigs, its founder and mayor from 1947 to 1960, when he died.
Jim Tras was Shalimar’s first elected mayor in 1965 following a short term in office by Clyde Meigs – Clifford’s brother – and a term of two to three years by Sara Tras, who was married to Clifford Meigs at the time of his death. She is currently married to Jim Tras.
Greatly responsible for Shalimar’s continuous growth, the Meigs family donated land for Choctawhatchee High School (now Meigs Middle School), Meigs Stadium and what eventually became the Shalimar Courthouse Annex. Before the annex was completed in 1947, a winery stood in its place, according to Sara Tras.
Today, the Meigs family continues to spur growth in quickly changing Shalimar. Clifford Meigs, Jr., owner of Shalimar Ventures, a commercial development firm, has built a car wash, convenience store and has other ideas "on the drawing board."
That, he believes, would suit his father just fine.
In the 1959 Playground News interview, Shalimar’s founder said the area should not depend entirely upon Eglin for its growth. With that in mind, Meigs says of his dad, "I think that he definitely would agree with some of the other local people here that we need other industry."
I give a lot of credit to the Air Force, but then I give a lot of credit to this area and to the beauty of the area and the water and the climate. We’re building a real large retirement base."
Even in 1944, Shalimar’s settler had that in mind. "Pilots, returned from combat overseas, are settling at Shalimar now," the December 31, 1944 Atlanta Journal reads. "The billeting officer gives them first preference. And I am glad they can have its peace and quietness, its unique charm…to help salve the mental wound of battle."