History of Niceville
Explore the Niceville, Florida Online History Center
Historic Niceville, Florida located on Boggy Bayou that opens into Choctawhatchee Bay was originally Boggy, Florida. It was in Walton County until Okaloosa County was formed in 1915 from portions of Santa Rosa County and Walton County.
In the 1840's William Nathey from England settled at the head of Boggy Bayou. He built the gristmill in 1857. The old mill site is on the south side of Trout Lake on Eglin's Golf Course where Mill Creek flows out. The mill was still standing in 1939. The millstones are Niceville's oldest artifacts from the pioneer settlement.
During the Civil War the area was actively contested by Union and Confederate forces. Union forces were deployed to end Confederate blockade-running and to destroy salt-works on the Choctawhatchee Bay. Families in the area had members that served on both sides. Some of their descendants reside in Niceville today.
Mail service to Boggy was established by Law #16, the Acts and Resolution adopted by the Legislature of Florida on July 21, 1868. The Boggy Post Office was located about 100 feet from a wharf close to where Mill Creek flows into Boggy Bayou. Boggy was assigned Election Precinct #9. Boggy is on the 1895 Florida map.
The Homestead Act of 1862 provided that any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U. S. Government, could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. Some families that homesteaded along Boggy Bayou in the early 1900's include Brown, Edge, Howell, Eaton, Early, Allen, Hudson, Nathey, Armstrong, and Parrish. Homesteaders on Rocky Bayou include Bolton, Burlison, and Lancaster. Land was withdrawn from settlement in 1906 and placed under the forest service as the Choctawhatchee National Forest.
The formation of the Choctawhatchee National Forest, the sawmills, and the naval stores industry were important in the development of Niceville. North Carolina native, Daniel P. McKenzie, owned the Boggy Mill Company (McKenzie Mill) located on the east side of Boggy Bayou and the Consolidated Land and Lumber Company located on the west side of Boggy Bayou. An article in the Pensacola Journal from 1908 reported, "The McKenzie Mill Company of Boggy bought the mill machinery of the Robinson Sawmill for the purpose of carrying it to Boggy to be set up. A large boiler and smoke stack were loaded on the schooner Evelyn at Jefferson Street wharf to be placed in the sawmill of the Consolidated Land and Lumber Company at Boggy Bayou. The Boggy Mill Company was running its plant on full time, cutting about 21,000 board feet per day. The mill of the Consolidated Land and Lumber Company will be ready to start up within a short time. Boggy is becoming one of the best towns in this section. The name Boggy signifies that it is bogged up with business. There are about ten buildings in the course of construction and everyone is busy. New families are locating rapidly, and at the present time the town has four stores, two (lumber) mills and two (turpentine) stills."
A Pensacola Journal article from December 1908 stated that the worth of the Consolidated Land and Lumber Company's sawmills at Boggy and about 12,000 acres of timber in Santa Rosa and Walton County were valued at $60,000. The value in 2010 is estimated at about $1,500,000. On January 1, 1909 John Kohler, manager of the Saunders Mill Company in Pensacola resigned that position to become manager of the Consolidated Land and Lumber Company at Boggy.
In 1909 the Pensacola Journal reported: "On Saturday the proprietors of the Swan kindly invited the ladies and Mr. Colver to an afternoon and evening ride on that boat to Boggy, Garniers, Rocky and other bayous, and to Marler's at Destin. A nice lunch was furnished on the boat. The trip was simply delightful, particularly the ride up Boggy bayou, with its mills and nice places to view along its shores, such as the Parish landing and the Woodmen of the World home. Mr. Parish, who is quite a vessel owner, is a brother to the Walton County Judge. One of the mill owners at Boggy, Mr. Crawford and his wife, were on the Swan, returning from Pensacola, and helped to make the trip interesting. McKenzie seemed to be doing a rushing business with his mills, and is building up a nice village on the west bank of the bayou. The name of Boggy should be changed to Bayou Grand, or Live Oak Bayou, as the name Boggy gives a stranger a wrong impression of a bayou that has deep, clear water, and high and dry shores a half mile apart."
Boggy became Niceville on November 5, 1910. It was in Walton County five more years before Okaloosa County was formed.
Two of the first churches still in existence today are the First Baptist Church (est.1910) and the Niceville United Methodist Church (est. 1913).
Niceville grew as roads were improved. In 1916 Congress passed the Federal-Aid Road Act but the beginning of World War I took priority for federal funding. In Okaloosa County elected officials and citizens took it upon themselves to build and improve existing roads. Instrumental in this effort was Niceville's County Commissioner, B. P. Edge.
The Woodmen of the World sponsored an annual picnic at Niceville. Citizens attended from every section of the county arriving in log carts, automobiles, launches and steamboats. Activities included fishing, swimming, boating and talking politics. In May 1918 about 500 to 600 people attended. The W.O.W.'s Hall was located near the First Baptist Church.
Early in Florida's land dispensations some parcels along Choctawhatchee Bay, Boggy Bayou and Rocky Bayou were transferred from the United States to the State of Florida and from the state to the railroad companies. The railroad companies in turn sold land to the lumber and timber companies. The land could be developed after the trees were removed and the swamps were drained.
Robert E. Lee McCaskill, a third generation resident of Walton County, was the most imposing personality in the early development of the area. After several business transactions he owned the Boggy Mill Company, the Consolidated Land and Lumber Company and the Mutual Land and Lumber Company. After acquiring these businesses located at Niceville he was in a position to control development. He had land offices in DeFuniak Springs, Pensacola, and in the Tribune Building in Chicago. Marketed as 'The Riviera of America' perhaps Niceville's name was chosen for Nice, France situated on a beautiful bay with a temperate climate along the French Riviera. As interest in the local area grew McCaskill marketed land along the Choctawhatchee Bay as "The Vale of Paradise". On one promotional map it reached from Black Point near Shalimar to White Point near the Mid-Bay Bridge in Niceville.
The primary occupations in 1910 and 1920 for those living in Niceville were turpentine farms, sawmills, shipbuilding and commercial fishing.
In 1915 B. H. Sutton who lived at Niceville was appointed the first Sheriff of Okaloosa County.
In 1921 a portion of Niceville on the west side of Boggy Bayou was incorporated as Valparaiso.
The oldest existing school in Niceville is at the corner of Crestview Highway (SR85) and Nathey Street. In 1924 George Nathey deeded seven acres that he inherited from his father's homestead for a new high school to the Okaloosa County School Board for $1. The building was first damaged by fire, then by a hurricane. Postmaster Lula Edge, also a member of the School Board, was instrumental in rebuilding the school with labor provided by the Works Progress Administration. The school was first designated Niceville High School and was the only high school in the southern section of Okaloosa County. In 1943 the school at Niceville became the first school in the county to have a nine-month school term to accommodate members of the military families at Eglin Field. In 1952 the school was changed to Niceville Elementary and in 1962 to honor Ms. Edge's commitment in preserving the school it became Lula J. Edge Elementary.
In 1926 4-H Camp Timpoochee located on Choctawhatchee Bay at Niceville was established as the first residential 4-H camping facility in Florida. It was also one of the first 4-H residential camps in the nation. Today it is one of four 4-H camps in use in Florida.
The only Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Okaloosa County was at Niceville. Company F-1402 was organized April 30, 1933 at Ft. Benning, Georgia under the command of Captain Walter Bigby, 67 th Infantry, U.S. Army. The executive officer was Captain C.H. Hagg, and the medical officer was 1 st Lieutenant J.W. Howard. The company consisted of 172 "junior" enrollees from the northwestern and northern counties of Florida. On May 18, 1933, filling four passenger cars and one baggage coach, a train took them through Montgomery, Pensacola, and Crestview. At Crestview they boarded trucks and arrived in Niceville on May 19th . They established a temporary camp on the Niceville school grounds. Among their duties were fire tower construction, erosion control, seedling plantings, mosquito control, construction of recreational facilities and landing fields. On October 1, 1939 Company F-1402 moved to Otter Creek, Florida where they established Camp P-83 on October 2nd and worked on private timberlands. On October 1, 1940 CCC Company (Army) #1413 was relocated to Niceville from Homerville, Georgia. It occupied the established area of the previous Camp where permanent barracks were constructed near Jackson Guard to assist soldiers assigned there to construct facilities for Eglin Field.
A fire in January 1934 destroyed almost all of the business section of Niceville located along Boggy Bayou on Bayshore Drive. Space was made in Adolph Finck's Restaurant to accommodate businesses most affected. It represented the bay country's first and only complete arcade; a post office, the Niceville Fish Company, a grocery, a restaurant, a bakery and the bay country's only draft beer dispensary. The Niceville Masonic Lodge occupied the floor above. CCC Camp enrollees were instrumental in fighting the fire.
In July 1938 Niceville had a population of approximately 1500. It was numbered among Northwest Florida's enterprising towns. An election showed overwhelming sentiment for a proposal to incorporate. The vote was 329 to 4. The first Mayor was J. M. Reynolds. The first City Council included Claude Meigs, Wallace Spence, G. B. Anchors, Herman Anderson and Thomas Powell. J. W. Windham was named Clerk and Hughie Holmes, Marshal. House Bill 1302 to incorporate was submitted to the Senate and approved May 25, 1939. The first consideration for the incorporated city was a water system and a cold storage plant for the benefit of the all-important fishing industry.
The establishment of the U.S. Army Airport brought a military presence and more newcomers to Niceville. On June 20, 1940 Clerk James Faircloth listed about 130 personnel, including two officers, at the U. S. Army Airport (Eglin Field) in a portion of the Census for Niceville's Enumeration District 46-18.
Among Historic Niceville's assets are beautiful natural surroundings, the military, educators who uphold the tradition of Niceville's excellent schools, churches, newcomers and caring locals who maintain its small town charm. Niceville celebrates its fishing heritage annually during the third weekend of October when it hosts the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival.