The History of Inlet Beach, Florida (30A)

For history buffs, the rich history of Inlet Beach is just one more thing that makes our community so special. With real estate sales dating back to the 1920s, land for soldiers returning home from World War II, and a state park where the 75-year-old buildings are still standing today, there’s so much to explore.

Let’s take a step back into Inlet Beach’s past.

Thousands of Years of History at Our Doorstep

Did an ancient civilization make its home in the area we now know as Inlet Beach? That’s what archeologists believe.

Historical artifacts found in the area adjacent to Inlet Beach that is now a protected state park – Camp Helen State Park, just 1 mile from our 30A beach house rental – suggest that this area was home to the Southeastern Deptford culture of indigenous people as early as 500 B.C.

Other indigenous cultures, too, have called this spot home, as evidenced by the shards of pottery and other artifacts that have since been found here, according to the Friends of Camp Helen State Park.

Where Inlet Beach Got Its Name

The name Inlet Beach comes from Phillips Inlet, the border at Lake Powell – one of the rare coastal dune lakes in the world – that divides South Walton County and Bay County.

Legend has it that the Phillips Inlet got its name for Captain Phillips, a historical figure who met a brutal end here around 1843.

When his wooden schooner became shipwrecked in a bad storm, Phillips and his crew became stranded on this inlet, where they were attacked by the indigenous people then living in the area, according to the Friends of Camp Helen State Park.

The sole survivor of the attack kept alive the story of Captain Phillips’s demise, and today, his name lives on. (And so, perhaps, does his ghost.)

While the ’20s Roared

The community that would ultimately become modern-day Inlet Beach started in the 1920s, when the McCaskill Investment Company of DeFuniak Springs first opened real estate sales of land off the Gulf Coast.

Even then, the tourism potential of the beautiful beach was clear. The McCaskill Investment Company of DeFuniak Springs attempted to entice travelers to Inlet Beach Hotel, a resort close to modern-day Camp Helen State Park.

The hotel didn’t last long, having burnt down by the time the year 1931 rolled around, but Inlet Beach’s value as a travel destination is still going strong almost a century later.

It was during this time – around 1928 – that Robert E. Hicks and his wife, Margaret, purchased 185 acres of land here, in the area currently set aside as Camp Helen State Park. In collaboration with McCaskill Investment Company, Robert Hicks had reportedly planned to build a retirement complex on the property he purchased, although those plans never came to fruition.

Around 1931, construction began on the Hicks’ summer home. The grand home, sprawling over almost 4,000 square feet, cost $75,000 to build, according to the Friends of Camp Helen State Park. (In 2020, that would be the equivalent of $1,124,535.09).

The cedar construction included materials brought from both South America and Spain. The home, which today is known as the Camp Helen Lodge, consists of a great room, four bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a basement, an indoor balcony and five fireplaces.

By 1931, the name “Inlet Beach” had already been written into the pages of history – literally, by the publication of the 21st and 22nd annual reports compiled by the Florida Geological Survey. Geologists praised the beach as a shining example of the “whiteness of sand” and the “natural beauty of the sand dune scenery” found along the beautiful Gulf Coast.

1930s and ’40s: The Great Depression, the War and More

In 1932, the same year construction was finally finished on the Lodge, Robert Hicks passed away. With Robert’s plans for the development of a retirement complex no longer viable, the  McCaskill Investment Company sold their interest in the project to Margaret Hicks. Although the Lodge was meant to be the family’s summer home, Margaret and her daughter (also named Margaret) moved there permanently. Margaret Hicks named the site Loch Lomond, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The economic hardships of the Great Depression led to Loch Lomond becoming a resort. Paying guests came to stay in the Rainbow Cottages that Margaret Hicks would later build on the property, according to Haunted Panama City. These cottages are still standing today.

The 1940s brought big changes for Inlet Beach.

Margaret Hicks and the family remained at Loch Lomond for more than a decade. She put the property up for sale and move away in 1942 (but not before another tragedy struck). A textile company, Avondale Mills of Alabama, bought the Margaret Hicks’s property in 1945 to use the resort as a vacation camp for its workers – a purpose the site would fulfill for more than 40 years.

Beyond the site of modern-day Camp Helen, Inlet Beach was changing, too. Our scenic stretch of sand was about to earn a new nickname.

Soldiers Beach

As veterans returned home from World War II, they made their way to our stunning Emerald Coast. So many war veterans set up their homes in Inlet Beach that the area became known by the monikers “Soldiers Beach” and “Veterans Beach.”

A Unique Kind of Lottery

Returning WWII soldiers got the opportunity to build their homes in Inlet Beach through a lottery system.

To thank these veterans for their service, the Bureau of Land Development used a lottery system to award publicly owned land in Inlet Beach under federal homestead acts, such as the Small Tract Act of 1938, according to the Federal Register of 1948. The announcement of the lottery program made the news, appearing in a 1947 issue of the Birmingham News.  

A soldier chosen by the lottery system was given 1.25 acres of what was previously public land in beautiful Inlet Beach. To get the land, the veteran had to pay a $50 fee and build an 800 square foot home on the property.

For many young veterans and their families, the lottery for land on Soldiers Beach offered the opportunity to build a new life and make a fresh start now that the war was over.

The History of Camp Helen

After Avondale Mills of Alabama purchased the Hicks family’s Loch Lomond, the vacation resort maintained for the workers of the textile company became known as Camp Helen.

The site remained in operation under Avondale Mills of Alabama until 1987. It would be another decade before the ground were opened to the public as present-day Camp Helen State Park.

Today, Camp Helen State Park encompasses more than 180 acres and is a favorite destination for 30A vacationers as well as locals in and around Inlet Beach.

One of Camp Helen’s claims to fame is that the historic site is home to Lake Powell, the largest of the coastal dune lakes in Florida. (Coastal dune lakes themselves are such a rare phenomenon that they exist only in 5 places in the entire world).

Much as they did decades ago, visitors flock to modern-day Camp Helen to enjoy the beaches, the water (Lake Powell, Phillips Inlet and the Gulf) and the scenery. Today’s visitors to Camp Helen enjoy activities like:

  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Saltwater fishing
  • Freshwater fishing
  • Hiking
  • Guided tours
  • Picnicking
  • Birdwatching
  • Sightseeing
  • Enjoying the beaches and scenic views

Still Standing Almost 90 Years Later

Whatever happened to the Hicks family’s great Lodge?

It’s still standing, one of 9 buildings in Camp Helen State Park that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the historic Lodge is sometimes used for special events such as weddings and meetings, according to Panama City Beach.  

The four colorful Rainbow Cottages Margaret Hicks had built here for the guests of Loch Lomond also remain intact. So do the kitchen, the cook’s house and the cat house initially constructed by McCaskill Investment Company. All three of these buildings were built in 1924 and predate the Lodge and the Hicks family’s ownership of the property, according to reports filed with the National Register of Historic Places.

Ghost Stories

Is there something spooky going on at Camp Helen? If you’re a believer in the paranormal, these spine-chilling reports of ghost sightings may capture your interest.

The Ghost of Captain Phillips

Do the victims of the Phillips Inlet massacre haunt Camp Helen to this day? If you believe the numerous reports of ghost sightings, that’s the only conclusion that fits.

Reports of sightings of this particular ghost date back until at least the mid-1940s, when a Sunday school teacher was invited to spend the night at the property shortly after Avondale Mills acquired it. While sleeping in the room of the Lodge that had once belonged to Margaret Hicks, Mr. Hugh Comer was awoken by what he said was a ghost, according to Panama City Beach.  

The ghost warned him, “This is my house, get out of my house!” It’s widely believed that this ghost was the spirit of Captain Phillips himself.

And he’s not the only apparition attributed to that historical event.

Walking the Beaches, Searching and Screaming

One of the passengers aboard Captain Phillips’s ship, as the legend goes, was a young slave girl named Rose. According to the tale of the massacre, Rose was killed. One of her gold earrings was torn from her ears.

Rose’s body was said to have been buried in a shallow grave, but it’s said that her spirit roams the beach of Camp Helen.

Rangers at the state park have received repeated reports of seeing the apparition of a young girl walking the beach when the park is closed.

Some witnesses to this supernatural phenomenon claim to have seen the ghost of Rose searching for her lost earring.

Others say they have heard her screaming for Captain Phillips to help her.

A Little Boy Playing

The third ghost originated almost a century after Captain Phillips and Rose met their gruesome demise. It was this tragedy that occurred shortly before the Hicks family left their home.

It was tragic enough that the Hicks family lost Robert unexpectedly, before the Lodge was even complete. This time, it was Margaret’s only grandson, George (alternately known as Gerald, according to some sources, or by his nickname “Gigi”), who suffered an untimely death.

The four-year-old slipped away from his caretakers as they prepared lunch. They called for him in the courtyard, where they thought he had gone to play, but he wasn’t there.

His body was later found in Lake Powell, where he had drowned after presumably falling off a boat dock, according to Haunted Panama City.

George’s ghost is a playful one. Those who report seeing him by the docks or hearing his small footsteps in the cabin believe that he’s trying to get them to come and play with him, according to WJHG News.

For years, Camp Helen State Park hosted an annual Ghost Walk and History Tour event, the Panama City News Herald reported. Prohibitive costs put an end to the event after October 2013, according to Panama City Beach.

However, guests who are interested in ghost sightings and the origins of these ghost stories can learn more about the history of the park from artifacts displayed at the Visitor Center and from talking to park rangers and volunteers.  

The Inlet Beach We Know and Love Today

The Latitudes and Attitudes beach house is very close to Lake Powell, Camp Helen, and the land raffled off to World War II soldiers in the lottery more than 70 years ago.

Video Credit: Visit South Walton

Throughout our picturesque community, you’re sure to discover Inlet Beach history in surprising places.

There’s a lovely, and lovingly updated, Queen Anne home known as “Anna’s Veranda” that dates back to 1909. The home was originally built in Marianna, Florida, more than 80 miles away, according to Panama City Living. In 1999, an owner had the historic house delicately dismantled into three pieces and moved, by means of three large trucks, all the way to Inlet Beach, where the pieces were carefully reattached.

Southern Living and Travel + Leisure have highlighted the wonder of our little section of the Florida Panhandle, naming Inlet Beach among the top “beaches that look like the Caribbean” and South Walton County a “trending destination” for 2022. Read more about what they had to say.  

Where Is Inlet Beach?

As the easternmost beach in South Walton County, our charming community marks the eastern end of 30A’s beach neighborhoods and the dividing line on the other side of which Bay County begins. Phillips Inlet seeps into both Lake Powell and the Gulf of Mexico.

Highway 30A is the most notable stretch of road passing through our community, but it intersects with US 98, which splits Inlet Beach into two sectors.

  • The north section of Inlet Beach is home to a public fishing dock that extends into Lake Powell.
  • The south section of Inlet Beach encompasses the largest area of public beach access – 13 acres – in the county, complete with lifeguard patrols, facilities for beachgoers and a picture-perfect dune walkover often used in destination weddings.

There’s a lot more that makes Inlet Beach special. Take a walk up 30Avenue for some of the best local dining and shopping experiences on the Florida Panhandle. Venture out into the Gulf to explore the Cobia Reef, a thriving artificial reef perfect for snorkeling.

Adding a Touch of History to Your 30A Vacation

Eager to bring Inlet Beach, Florida, history into your getaway? Then we can’t recommend the history tours at Camp Helen State Park strongly enough.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a history buff by nature or just a casual observer. If you’re able to make it to one of these events – offered free with admission to the park – you’re sure to learn something new and wonderful about one of our favorite local treasures.

(Check with Camp Helen for scheduling updates, because these events may not offered regularly and are subject to change at the discretion of the park and the state government.)

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