SHALIMAR – It’s not hard to imagine that the entire population of Shalimar, as well as neighbors and friends in the area, could run for the town in Okaloosa County. 75th anniversary celebration from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on May 21 at Combes Park on Cherokee Road.
The 2020 census pegs the city’s population of 186 acres at 830 peoplecompared to 717 in the 2010 national population count.
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Still, Mayor Mark Franks warned earlier this week that parking would likely be a premium for the anniversary celebration. Franks suggested that visitors who can’t find parking nearby could park at City Hall a short distance away on Cherokee Road or at the Post Office across Eglin Parkway.
Franks’ excitement for the city’s 75th anniversary, nestled along the shoreline of Garnier Bayou and straddling State Route 85 just north of Fort Walton Beach, is more than evident.
“I’m a history buff,” he said in a recent interview promoting the upcoming celebration, “That’s my favorite thing about being Mayor of Shalimar, it’s just the rich history of the city that I still learn about every day.
“It’s important to look back at where we came from,” Franks added, and he’s not shy about watering down the circumstances of his founding.
The town began in the early 1940s as an assembly of over 100 houses, the brainchild of owner Clifford Meigs. The houses were intended for rental by staff officers at Eglin Field (now Eglin Air Force Base), which had been established in 1935 as the Valparaiso Bombing and Artillery Base.
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“I furnished the land and another guy did the buildings…it was a gamble, though,” Meigs recounted in a 1959 article in the Playground News, precursor to the Northwest Florida Daily News. “People used to say I was crazy building houses way out here in the woods, that the base would pull back as soon as the war (WWII) was over, and I’d be left with empty houses on my hands. But it didn’t work out. It didn’t work out like that, and the 160 houses I had built stayed rented all the time.”
But Shalimar was not incorporated as a town until 1947, and this measure was taken mainly to protect the gambling that took place at the now well-known Shalimar Club. In “A History of Okaloosa County”, written by Henry Allen Dobson, the club was described as a “lavish” venue, and its opening was declared “the social event of 1947”.
But because Shalimar was unincorporated, Shalimar Club’s future was clouded by a Florida law prohibiting clubs in unincorporated areas from operating between midnight Saturday and Monday morning.
“Fort Walton Beach (gambling) venues were doing booming business on the weekends (as an incorporated area) when there were rumors that the sheriff might enforce the law in Shalimar and close the place there,” Meigs told Playground News for the 1959 story.
“The owner (of the Shalimar Club) came to me and suggested that I incorporate, and although I didn’t think I had much to gain at the time, I agreed,” added Meigs. “With only about three other freeholders in the area, it was simple to incorporate.”
For Franks, the origin story isn’t particularly daunting.
“It was a different time,” he said.
And anyway, soon after the city was incorporated, gambling in Okaloosa County disappeared. Outdoor publicity, including an expose from the Tampa Tribune and direct state intervention, stifled the company in Shalimar and the rest of the county.
At this time, however, Shalimar’s development was spurred on by people returning from service in World War II.
“Pilots, returned from overseas combat, now settle in Shalimar,” noted a 1944 story in the Atlanta Journal, in which someone is quoted as saying, “…I am glad that they may have his peace and quiet, his unique charm… to help heal the mental wound of battle.”
That spirit will be very present at the upcoming 75th anniversary celebration, according to Franks.
“Basically, it’s going to be a fun day,” the mayor said, with music, burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, face painting and games and contests for young people.
The celebration will be punctuated by speeches from a number of people, including State Rep. Patt Maney, who lives in Shalimar, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden, and local restaurateur and history buff Tom Rice. Franks said. Other speakers are lined up, he added.
Another special event planned is a “treasure hunt”, with Franks periodically offering clues during the celebration as to where the treasure – he wouldn’t say what it is – can be found.
And in a nod to Franks’ nervousness about history, the anniversary celebration could also include displays of old city maps, as well as old books full of municipal election results — if a A safe way to display these artifacts can be devised, he said.