Story and photos by DOTTY NIST
Perfect Florida Panhandle weather for late December set the stage for the annual celebration of the founding of Walton County.
Guests again flocked to the Eastern Lake home of Lane and Brenda Rees on Jan. 29, gathering on their lakefront deck for a sunset toast in honor of the occasion. Refreshments were served inside.
Walton County historian Brenda Rees started the annual tradition in 2004 as a countdown to the 200th anniversary of the county’s founding, which will take place in 2024.
One of the state’s oldest counties, Walton County was the eighth county to be created in the state. It was named for George Walton Jr., secretary of the Territory of West Florida from 1821 to 1826 and later acting governor for the state of Florida. Walton was the son of George Walton Sr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The junior George Walton’s daughter was Octavia Walton LeVert. Brenda Rees describes her as “the most famous belle that you’ve never heard of.” While not well known today, LeVert was renowned as a socialite and writer during the mid-19th century, and was a close friend of prominent politicians and literary figures of the day. She was honored by Edgar Allan Poe with a poem entitled “Octavia.”
In conjunction with the sunset toast at these celebrations, another part of the annual tradition is the recitation of this famous poem:
“When wit, and wine and friends have met
And laughter crowns the festive hour
In vain I struggle to forget
Still does my heart confess thy power
And fondly turn to thee.
But Octavia do not strive to rob
My heart, of all that soothes its pain
The mournful hope that every throb
Will make it break for thee!”
Begining in 2009, one male and one female guest at the Rees’ countdown party have been chosen as honorary George Walton Jr., and Octavia Walton LeVert for the year. The practice was continued this year, with guests having the opportunity to purchase a chance in a drawing by making a $5 donation to the Coastal Branch Library. Guests participating in the drawing received a copy of the Santa Rosa Beach 100th birthday celebration booklet for which Brenda Rees volunteered her time and knowledge to help create. Santa Rosa Beach’s centennial was celebrated in September 2010.
Winners of this year’s drawing were Maxine Sharp as honorary Octavia Walton LeVert and Al Cook as honorary George Walton Jr.