The Founding of Santa Rosa Beach

On the Hogtown Bayou connecting to the wider Choctawhatchee Bay, there was a Floridian town called Hogtown. The town grew, was renamed Santa Rosa, and became an important steamboat landing as it grew to a population of 1,200. The town had, between the late 1800s and early 19000s, been home to a general store, a cannery, a sugar cane syrup factory, hotels, and two turpentine mills.

The town was founded by Dr. Charles Cessna. He encouraged northern families to come down to live among the Satsuma orange trees, sugar cane fields, and grape vineyards. European settlers were enticed by the climate, but mosquito sickness, little electricity, and bad roads made life difficult. And while farming and supposedly rich soil enticed many settlers, the sandy region and poor crop yield led to trouble. There were, at least, always oysters and fish to eat if worse came to worse though.

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The town suffered a major setback when a crop disaster and hurricane wiped out the area. Santa Rosa fell to lawlessness and then became a ghost town. A posse chase following a shotgun murder and feud caused so much strife that the remaining citizens of the area asked for several steamers from Mobile to pick them up and they all left. What buildings remained were torn down for lumber.

These days, Santa Rosa Beach is more of a tucked away, quiet beach community with no great aspirations for industry. Where there were once factories and canneries, a winding golf course and rows of beach rental houses have taken their place. Beachcombers and tourists are the primary source of income, in particular along the Emerald Coast south of US 98. North of US 98 remains quieter right up to the Choctawatchee Bay, as the more limited housing is reflective of an earlier period of the town’s history.

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