By Samantha Lambert
There is a sign at the western end of Destin’s Marler Bridge that states, “Welcome to Destin—The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Honoring and preserving the history of the “luckiest fishing village” is the mission of the Destin History & Fishing Museum. The museum, located at 108 Stahlman Avenue, is a tourist destination and key historical repository for the Destin area.
The museum interprets the history and natural science of Destin from pre-history to the present day. The primary focus of the museum is on the early families that resided in the area prior to the construction of the Marler Bridge in 1936 and how they shaped the fishing and tourist industries of today’s Destin.
The original Destin Fishing Museum, Inc. was established in 1985. It was located in the old Jitney Jungle grocery store building, the current location of the McGuire’s shopping complex.
The museum operated there until 1996, when the property was sold. In 2003, a group of local residents and community leaders formed an organization that was dedicated to preserving the history of the Destin area. Memberships were sold, and the group was incorporated. The Destin Fishing Museum Foundation, Inc. was born.
In March of 2005, the City of Destin leased the original Destin Library building on Stahlman Avenue to the Destin History & Fishing Museum (the library got a brand new facility down the road). The city continues to support the museum with a yearly lease of $1.
In 2015, the City of Destin moved the Old Post Office Museum building to the property site of the museum. The Primrose seine boat was also moved there. A seine boat employs a method of fishing using a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights.
The legendary Primrose is said to have brought in more mullet than any other Destin seine boat. The boat was the dream of Captain John W. Melvin Sr. and was built by Captain John George Maltezo in 1925. It fished the Destin waters for 43 years.
Two years ago, the city gave the museum a former Senior Center room on the property, and this renovated space became the Destin Rodeo Gallery which opened in October 2015. The gallery is an exhibit and audio-visual presentation hall for the Destin Fishing Rodeo and can seat up to 50 people. Visitors can learn all about Destin’s oldest fishing tournament here.
The museum has over 5,500 square feet of exhibit space and over 75 mounts of locally caught fish. There are historic photos, artifacts, fishing equipment and documents of early Destin and the fishing industry. Visitors can learn the science of Destin’s geologically unique sand, as well as historical and genealogical data on the founding families of Destin.
There are many ways to experience the museum—self-guided tours, staff-led tours, self-guided audio tours with MP3 players and headsets, or utilizing QR codes on smartphones. Student and group tours are also available, and the museum is handicapped accessible.
Jean Melvin was the first director of the Destin History & Fishing Museum. Today, that position is filled by Kathy Marler Blue, who has been with the museum since June 2009. Blue was an elementary school teacher for 31 years before working here. “Everyone who comes through the door of the museum is a learner,” she says. “To ‘storytell’ the history of Destin is important.”
Blue explains that the focus of the museum now is to modernize and update the technology. “We are working on making more exhibits hands-on for children and accessible for everyone.” she says. Plans for this year include a commercial fishing exhibit, a digital artifact inventory system, an exhibit housing early church history and stained glass, and a Science of Fish hands-on exhibit for children.
Blue is assisted by associate director Tarra Wixom.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is closed Sunday and Monday. Discover more at www.destinhistoryandfishingmuseum.org.
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