Cape San Blas is a magical vacation paradise on the Forgotten Coast, located in Gulf County which even today is sparsely populated with approximately 13,000 inhabitants over 580 square miles. Because of its rather remote location, and other interesting factors outlined below, it has remained unspoiled, leaving the sugar white sand beaches and clear, blue-green gentle surf for generations of families to enjoy.
Just 10 miles away, Port St. Joseph is a charming resort town that is considered the gateway to Cape San Blas and their histories are intertwined.
The first to enjoy the beauty and bounty of Cape San Blas and St Joe Bay were Native Americans.
In the early 1500s, Spanish explorers set anchor in the area. It is interesting to note that St. Augustine, FL, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in North America, but the Spanish explored the Cape and Port St. Joe Bay area almost 50 years earlier, they just did not stay around.
In 1701, the Spanish finally built the Presidio San Jose and Mission at the tip of the Cape where the State Park is today, but the settlers abandoned the fort after a just a few years and nothing remains of this original settlement today.
The U.S. purchased Florida from the Spanish is 1822 and St. Joseph’s (the original name of Port St. Joseph) was founded shortly thereafter, in 1835. The original town flourished, primarily due to the natural deep-water harbor, which quickly competed with Charleston and New Orleans, both well-established ports.
It became a boomtown and St Joseph’s population grew quickly to 12,000 people, making it the largest city in the new territory. Because of its importance and charm, in 1838 Port St. Joseph’s was chosen to host the first State Constitution Convention.
But the boomtown was short lived. In the summer of 1841 a passenger infected with yellow fever arrived in St. Joseph’s and within a month, the town was virtually deserted and did not recover until about 1901 when the railroad began coming back to St Josephs.
In 1847 the first of four lighthouses was built on the Cape. Congress appropriated $8,000 to safely guide ships around the shoals running out from the Cape – the light could be seen from 10 miles offshore. During the Civil War, the Confederate lighthouse supervisor had the lens removed before the Union forces were able to capture it. The lighthouse returned to operation in July of 1865. Cape San Blas has the distinction of having had the most lighthouse towers on its site than any location in Florida. In 2014, the fourth and last lighthouse was relocated from Cape San Blas to Port St Joe.
During the Civil War, Cape San Blas was home to Confederate salt works, where upwards of 150 bushels (about 50 pounds) of salt each day was processed by an elaborate process of evaporating seawater. Salt was a precious commodity before the advent of refrigeration for the preservation of meat, fish, eggs and cheese. This work stopped in 1862 when a Union ship, the USS Kingfisher destroyed the salt works.
In 1940 the family that owned the majority of the Cape sold it to the U.S. government to use for military training. Between the late 1950s to early 1980s, the military established tests, including the Test Site D-3 to provide radar-tracking capabilities for over-water test and training missions. In the early 1960s, the Cape had a radar system to track, monitor and record information concerning missile flight and impact.
Residential development began in the early 1970s and because of local building and density restrictions Cape San Blas is primarily single-family homes and townhomes. The community maintains height and commercial restrictions so there will never be high-rise condos, crowded beaches or waterslides on the Cape.
There is an abundance of natural beauty and rich history in the area. While you are visiting, make a point to immerse yourself in both.