Summer brings memories of Wilson's Beach Cottages
When Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1st Air Fleet, released his ordinance on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor it set into motion a sequence of events that eventually contributed to the creation of Wilson’s Beach Cottages at St. Teresa Beach.
Camp Gordon Johnston
At the beginning of World War II, when Army planners realized that amphibious landings would play a significant role in the invasions in two theaters of war, they began to look for a place with a jagged coastline, hard beaches, and off-shore islands. Settling on the coastline in Franklin County, Camp Gordon Johnston was established with training ranges and barracks situated in Carrabelle, Lanark and St. Teresa. The training areas included rifle ranges, hand grenade ranges, and even a mockup German Village named “Shickelgruber Haven” close to Carrabelle. The Headquarters, which had the unheard of luxury of an outdoor theater, was located at what is now the Bay North gated community. An asphalt parade ground, water tower, and rows of hastily constructed tar paper billets were located directly north of U.S. 98 from the Headquarters area.
体育在线365The training was tough and the living conditions even tougher. One can only imagine sitting at that outside movie theater trying to concentrate on Humphrey Bogart lamenting to Ingrid Bergman about how they would “always have Paris” in 95-degree heat while swatting at those famous St. Teresa mega-mosquitoes. Gen. Omar Bradley, who eventually commanded all allied troops in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, brought the 28th Infantry Division to Camp Gordon Johnston for training. After enduring the harsh living conditions, he famously remarked: “the man who chose this place ought to be court-martialed!”
Wilson’s Beach Cottages
When Camp Gordon Johnston was created, the government leased thousands of acres from the St. Joe Paper Company and other private land owners. Barracks, an Army term for living quarters, warehouses, administrative buildings, and an infirmary, along with all the infrastructure to support the camp were constructed. Three docks were also built at St. Teresa to tether the amphibious landing craft that the soldiers were training for seaborne invasions in. Two were built at the Headquarters area and a third built west of those further down the beach. When the Camp was decommissioned in 1946, after the war was over, 37,000 acres, along with hundreds of buildings, were returned to the original landowners.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, some of the abandoned buildings were cut up, moved and reconstructed along the beach as vacation homes. Some were situated along the periphery of what became the village of houses comprising Wilson’s Cottages with the centerpiece attraction being the dock that had been built by the Army Corps of Engineers. Additional rental cottages were constructed in cookie-cutter fashion with rolled asphalt roofing and shingled or clapboard siding with two small bedrooms, one bath and a tiny kitchenette.
体育在线365With powder white sand, laced with seaweed, the beach was a welcome sight to droves of folks from Georgia and elsewhere who traveled there for an affordable family vacation. There was even a small general store by the highway that sold, in addition to milk, bread, and other food, gallons of “suntan lotion,” for the guests who were ill prepared for the what the sun could do to them in a mere 30 minutes.
When Jimmy Buffett wrote the lyrics “stepped on a pop top” it applied to St. Teresa just as well as Key West. Between the pop tops that had been carelessly tossed into the sand, along with the occasional catfish skeleton, many out-of-state guests had their vacations ruined by a trip to the emergency room that generally required a journey to Tallahassee. But even with these distractions, it was still a wonderful place to experience the real Florida. Dale Jones, longtime Tallahassee and St. Teresa resident, remembers the huge Leon High School Spring Break parties at Wilson’s in the early and mid-1960s.
For the kids, it was paradise. For the parents, it was actually a very safe place to go with no traffic and no predatory behavior because everyone knew each other. After all, St. Teresa was and still is something of a secret place.
体育在线365All good things end. Wilson’s Cottages no longer exist. The area is grown over now just like the remains of Camp Gordon Johnston. The only remaining cottage has been vacant for years with Mother Nature sending her vines to grow on the walls and harsh weather to erode the exterior.
体育在线365Even now, if you stand on the beach where Wilson’s Cottages used to be and close your eyes you can visualize the amphibious landing craft, filled with soldiers from all over the country, going back and forth with the ebb and flow of the sea on training missions, while at the same time almost hear the gleeful shouts of kids a couple of decades later as they visited the Gulf making memories with their families.
David Brand is a retired police officer who currently works for a nonprofit that represents the interests of law enforcement. He lives at St. Teresa Beach, Florida.