Story and photos by DOTTY NIST
The yearly countdown to the 200th anniversary of the founding of Walton County continued on Dec. 29 with a celebration hosted by local Florida historian and Walton County native Brenda Rees.
Walton County, one of the state’s oldest counties, will be 200 years old in 2024. Rees started the countdown observance in 2004 to highlight the important date of Walton County’s anniversary.
Rees’ guests gathered at her home on Eastern Lake. The theme for the 2018 celebration was a special year, 1821, when both Florida and Costa Rica got their freedom from Spanish rule, with Costa Rica gaining its independence and Spain ceding East Florida to the United States and renouncing all claim to West Florida.
For countdown refreshments, carrying over from the previous year’s observance was an emphasis on chocolate, due to pre-Columbian, Maya and Aztec peoples having shared this delicious treat with the Spanish, who took it back with them to Europe. Added this year was Costa Rican coffee, an important crop for the nation and a tie-in with the date of 1821 for shared freedom from Spain for Costa Rica and Florida.
Rees explained that in 1821 Florida was divided into just two counties, Escambia County, with its eastern border extending to the Suwanee River, and St. Johns County. What is now Walton County was then part of Escambia County. Three years later Walton County was created as the eighth county for the state, which today consists of 67 counties.
Due to rainy weather, the traditional sunset toast and recitation of the poem “Octavia” by Edgar Allan Poe took place indoors this year. The poem had been composed in 1827 in honor of the daughter of George Walton, Jr., secretary of state for West Florida and the Territory of Florida as well as twice acting governor of Florida. His daughter, Octavia Walton Le Vert, exceeded her father in fame, and was a writer, world traveler, and important hostess to social gatherings of prominent literary and political figures. Sarah Walton was George Walton, Jr.’s wife and mother of Octavia.
Rees also spoke of Rev. Alexander Talley’s pastoral appointment in 1821 to serve as pastor of the First Methodist Church in Pensacola and surrounding areas, which, she explained, had likely included the area that became Walton County. “Rev. Talley was so impressed with the young Octavia Walton…that he wrote about her in his Conference Report,” Rees said.
“Talley left the next year to another appointment,” she commented. “Importantly,” she continued, “he accompanied the native people on their ‘removal’ by President Andrew Jackson and spent his money and life trying to help the displaced people.”
More information can be found on Rees’ website, www.shapingflorida.com and on the Walton County 200 Facebook page.