Story and photos by DOTTY NIST
The countdown to Walton County’s 200th birthday continued on Dec. 29 with a celebration on Eastern Lake.
Lane and Brenda Rees hosted a gathering in honor of the Dec. 29, 1824, founding of Walton County. This has been an annual event for the couple and their guests since 2004.
“We have a great time hosting one of Florida’s most historic and beautiful counties,” said Brenda, a Walton County native, avid historian and author.
Lane Rees, a native Texan, is a local business owner and former Walton County commissioner. He and Brenda have resided in Walton County full-time for more than a decade.
As has been the tradition at the yearly gatherings, guests joined in a sunset toast on the Rees’ deck overlooking Eastern Lake and the gulf, and the poem Octavia by Edgar Allan Poe was recited:
“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 it pain
` The mournful hope that every throb
Will make it break for thee!”
Poe wrote the poem in honor of Octavia Walton Le Vert, who was extremely renowned as a socialite, world traveler, and writer during the mid-19th century and was friends with prominent politicians and literary figures of the day. Le Vert was the daughter of George Walton, Jr., namesake for Walton County.
George Walton, Jr., served as secretary of the territory of West Florida from 1821 to 1826 and later as acting governor for the state of Florida. His father, George Walton, Sr., was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Another tradition was continued at the Dec. 29 gathering, the selection of an honorary George Walton, Jr., and Octavia Walton Le Vert for the evening. The honorees for 2012 were Paul Wolfe and wife Lauren Rees Wolfe, daughter of Lane and Brenda.
On display in the Rees’ home was the signature of George Walton, Jr., obtained by Brenda through her research of historic documents.
Brenda pointed out to guests that Walton County, the eighth county to be created in the state, is one of the older counties in the region.
“While Walton County will be 200 years old in 2024;” she explained, “it will be 2025 when Washington County is 200 years old, 2113 for Bay County to be 200 years old, and 2115 for Okaloosa County to be 200 years old.”
“Walton was carved out of Escambia County, one of Florida’s two counties created in 1821, and Jackson County, founded 1822,” Brenda noted.
She recently published a historical work, T.T. Wentworth, Jr., Museum 55th Anniversary. T.T. Wentworth, Jr., a historian and historical artifact collector, was Brenda’s late uncle. Wentworth founded the museum bearing his name, which has been described as a treasure trove of artifacts from West Florida’s heritage.
The book is available for purchase at the T.T. Wentworth, Jr., Florida State Museum, and proceeds from its sale benefit West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc.
Attendees at the countdown celebrations sign a guest book, and each year wine is set aside to be partaken of at the county’s bicentennial.