The latest go-to place to go on the Florida Panhandle is Scenic Highway 30-A. Right in the middle of what tourist development branders have branded "The Emerald Coast," resorts along this stretch of road attract thousands of visitors each year. It was there, on that road, that the Redneck Riviera died.
Those folks helped kill it.
This is how it happened.
In December, 1956, word reached Panhandle property owners in south Walton County that a "beach route" would be built to link the coastal enclaves of Seagrove Beach, Grayton Beach, and Blue Mountain to each other and to Destin to the west and Panama City Beach to the east. It would be called 30-A.
Not everyone liked the idea.
C. H. McGee, who developed Seagrove Beach, offered the state some land away from the coast, if it would route the road around his village. The state turned the developer down.
McGee was one of Florida real estate's unsung pioneers. After World War II, when places like Panama City Beach and Gulf Shores were actively creating "amusements" to attract visitors from the lower south, McGee took a different tact. McGee laid out a tightly regulated community with a covenant that promised "no trailer, tent, shack, outhouse, or other temporary structure will be allowed." Lots were plotted for single family dwellings and only "approved and accepted" building material could be used. Then to seal the deal, McGee guaranteed that "no noxious activities, offensive noises or odors, nor any nuisance" would be allowed to intrude on the quiet and seclusion.
Those who wanted "amusements" could go to Panama City Beach or Gulf Shores, where what would come to be known as the Redneck Riviera was rapidly rising. To keep these folks at bay, McGee priced them out of his market, asking so much for a parcel of his land that his son "really wondered if we would ever sell the first."
In effect, McGee created a gateless gated community. Three miles off U.S. Highway 98, without a road to connect it to its nearest neighbor, Grayton Beach, Seagrove sat in splendid isolation. There was a little store for staples, a small motel with a cafŽ, and that was it. A "beach route" promised change, promised not only to bring traffic and noise, but to open the coast to the element that Seagrove homeowners wished to avoid--rednecks.
Homeowners were not happy.
The road was built in phases and by the early 1970s it was completed. At first few used it. Though a pretty drive, most folks traveling between Panama City and Destin were in a hurry so they stayed inland on US 98.
In the early 1980s things began to change.
At a curve where 30-A veered away from the beach, someone opened a restaurant and bar that quickly turned into a honky-tonk that gave the road a taste of redneckery.
Seagrove homeowners were not happy.
Then the county commission, which was dominated by inland interests, granted developers permission to build two high-rise condominiums on the beach side of 30-A, just east of Seagrove.
Seagrove homeowners were not happy.
Before long, county commissioners were not happy either.
When the condos began to have water and sewer problems, developers demanded that the commissioners fix them.
Commissioners began to wonder if condos were not more trouble than they were worth.
Then a delegation from Seagrove showed up at the commission meeting and demanded height limits.
The commissioners said OK.
Thus it came to pass that 30-A would not have the "wall of condos" and the multi-storied motels that were rising at Gulf Shores, Panama City Beach and Destin. Nor would it have the "amusements" and bars that attracted the sort of people who rented those condos and motels.
30-A would attract affluent and accomplished baby boomers looking for a place to relax and young urban professionals--"yuppies"--whose attitudes and affectations were anything but redneck.
They found what they wanted at Seaside.
Seaside's story is well known. Its "founder," Robert Davis, set out to create a "real town," yet one more carefully designed and controlled than anything C. H. McGee ever envisioned.
What started as a collection of cute, brightly painted cracker cottages around a village grocery, hardware store, and Shrimp Shack cafŽ quickly evolved into an architectural fantasy world, complete with concerts and wine tastings. Seaside has been called many things, but never redneck.
The honky-tonk in the curve soon closed.
Other planned communities followed--WaterColor, WaterSound, Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach--spreading sophistication as they swallowed up acres of sand and scrub.
Florida Travel and Life announced that 30-A was the "Pearl of the Panhandle," a place where visitors would find "southern hospitality in a trendy setting."
Along 30-A, people who can pay the price can enjoy what a redneckless Riviera has to offer.
Down there the Redneck Riviera is dead.
And they buried it on 30-A.
Harvey H. Jackson III is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. His latest (and likely last) book is The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider's History of the Florida-Alabama Coast (Georgia Press, 2012). He can be reached at email@example.com.