A brief history of Holt, Fla.

By Max M. Cooper
Holt Historian

Holt, Fla., is an unincorporated community in west-central Okaloosa County. Located on U.S. Highway 90, about 12 miles west of Crestview, Fla., and 3 miles east of the Okaloosa-Santa Rosa county line, Holt has a population of approximately 2,800.

One of the older communities in the county, the first pioneers to come to the Holt area settled along the Yellow and Blackwater rivers sometime between 1830 and 1859, though an exact date of their arrival has not been established.

Other pioneers began to settle north of present-day Holt along the Blackwater River and its tributaries. They eked out an existence by trapping, hunting, fishing and a small amount of farming.

A Man Named Holt

A stage route between Milton, Fla., and Geneva, Ala., came through what’s now the present-day downtown area around 1850. Sometime around 1860, a man named David Holt built a small log cabin along the route near what is now the intersection of Main Street and the railroad tracks, several years before the railroad came through in 1883.

Holt had a small store in one corner of this cabin that served the people who settled “up on the hill,” as present-day Holt was known, and along the Blackwater River area and its tributaries. These settlers were too far away from Canoe Mill on Canoe creek to buy goods, so Holt had supplies brought in from Milton by horse and wagon. The stagecoach stopped at Holt’s store on its regular trips from Milton to Geneva, partly because of the stable where the coach horses were rested and fed. The little community became known as Holt’s Station.

Around 1900, a 12-inch well was drilled “up on the hill” which provided water for Holt’s Station residents. Before, residents had to travel down to one of the nearby creeks or rivers and haul water back up the hill. Because of the well, more people moved to Holt’s Station where later railroad transportation made supplies more readily accessible.

Timber, Lumber and Turpentine

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, some pioneers earned their living by cutting and hauling resin-filled pine tree heartwood, known as fatwood, to wood dumps along the railroad to be used as fuel. From there the “lightard,” as it was called, was loaded on the train and hauled to Pensacola to be processed by the turpentine industry.

The location of the Holt area’s first real source of income was a sawmill named Mart’s Mill. The mill was located along Canoe Creek, just south of present day Holt and north of Yellow River.  It was constructed in the mid-1850s and supplied timber and lumber to the Bagdad, Fla., area by way of Yellow River.

In the mid-to-late 1800s, a few more small sawmills and gristmills sprang up along the rivers and their tributaries and provided a meager existence for the pioneers. The more prosperous of these was W. T. Smith & Sons Timber Company, opened in 1909.

Holt became a thriving little town in the ‘teens and even incorporated during 1913; however, being a real city was found to be “too much trouble” and Holt was unincorporated in 1914.

Later Years

After the timber industry dwindled, land was cleared and pecan groves and blueberry orchards were planted. In the 1920s tung trees, which provided tung oil used in paint, were planted but soon commercially developed products replaced the need for the oil. Satsuma groves also were planted but a few hard freezes wiped them out.

Gradually, Holt became more of a bedroom community for those employed in Crestview and Milton as well as civil service jobs at nearby Eglin Air Force Base and the other local military installations.

Taken from: A History of Holt, by Max M. Cooper

To learn more about Holt’s history:
* Baker Block Museum, corner of Hwy 189 and State Road 4, Baker, Fla.
* The Robert L. F. Sikes Public Library, 1445 Commerce, Crestview, Fla.