Story By Lauren Sumners — Photos By Scott K. Sholl
Florida has its share of ghost towns and other abandoned properties — places now largely forgotten that were once the sites of thriving small towns, prosperous farms, and military forts. Often these sites are now overgrown and unkempt, dotted with the remains of whatever once stood there.
One of Florida’s more intriguing ghost towns, East Goose Creek, sits on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico’s Goose Creek Bay in North Florida’s Wakulla County, a few miles south of Tallahassee. Also known as Wakulla Beach, this town’s remains tell the story of a modest community, its beachfront hotel, and one woman’s dream to establish a thriving resort on that site.
The determined woman was Daisy Walker, the wife of former Florida Senator Henry Walker Sr. At her behest the Walker family established East Goose Creek in the summer of 1915. Mrs. Walker wanted a waterfront community where she and her husband could take up permanent residence. Her wish was granted, and the land that would become East Goose Creek was soon purchased. The community was to be nestled among a large grove of live oak trees, and construction began right away.
Significantly, the new community’s main road was dubbed Hotel Avenue. That is where the Walkers would build not one, not two, but three hotels during East Goose Creek’s brief lifetime. Although the now ruined Wakulla Beach Hotel served as the community’s most famous attraction, it was preceded by two other hotels built by the Walkers. The first was a wooden structure located next to the main road, but it didn’t remain a hotel for long because Henry Walker decided to make it his family’s full time residence.
Thus began construction on a second hotel that was intended to become the town’s lodging. Soon after construction was completed, however, the structure was destroyed by a powerful hurricane in 1928. The storm totally obliterated the new hotel. Unfazed by this setback, Henry Walker started from scratch once again, and it was from the Walkers’ third attempt that the Wakulla Beach Hotel was built.
With the hotel’s completion, Daisy Walker’s little community soon became a popular stomping ground for sportsmen. The couple advertised East Goose Creek and the Wakulla Beach Hotel as the place “Where the Honkers spend their winter,” an allusion to the seasonal abundance of geese and other migratory waterfowl in the area. This lured sportsmen to pay a visit to this new town beside the bay.
Although Daisy Walker is given credit for inspiring the creation of this resort, the driving force in its construction was her husband, Henry Walker, Sr. Born in 1868, he was an accomplished, outspoken man who was fond of walking and keeping active right up until his death in 1958 at the age of 90. His friends and neighbors would often spot him sporting a wide-brimmed hat while walking up and down the streets.
Henry Walker’s life was marked by myriad professions. He owned and operated the Wakulla Times for a decade. He raised cattle — including some rather unruly ones that were often seen roaming along the area’s paved roads. He also served for awhile as a Wakulla County schoolteacher in the subject areas of English, Latin, and algebra.
Henry Walker then entered into public service, working as a county sheriff and later serving as a state senator. During his time in the Florida Legislature between 1925 and 1939, the Wakulla Beach Hotel became a favored spot for lawmakers and statesmen. Many flocked to the hotel to take part in hunting the abundant wildlife found there.
After the death of Daisy Walker in 1935, Henry Walker’s visions for a paved roadway and expansion of East Goose Creek slowly began to fade. By the early 1950s, only a few residents remained in the area, a stark contrast to the liveliness of Wakulla Beach and the Walkers’ third hotel during its heyday.
The third hotel, though successful, ultimately survived for only a short time. In 1931 the federal government purchased and traded lands to create a wildlife preserve– what is now the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The government acquired land in Wakulla County from the St. Marks River eastward, adjacent land in Jefferson County, and land west of the Wakulla River toward Spring Creek.
Within this land of swamp, oaks, and pine lay the Walkers’ community. Around 1950, Henry Walker agreed to turn over East Goose Creek and the Wakulla Beach Hotel to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Walker then demolished and hauled away the old hotel, according to his granddaughter. However, as we can see today, the demolition was not fully completed.
The remaining ruins of Walker’s third and final hotel, which had accommodated hunters, statesmen, and vacationers alike, were eventually reclaimed by nature. Today, the concrete foundation, some steps, and several columns of the formerly bustling hotel lie among sand, debris, and foliage. What was once one family’s treasure is now a ghost town offering curious visitors its own unique and compelling insight into an interesting chapter in Florida’s past.
Sources: FROM BOOM TO BUST: GHOST TOWNS OF SELECTED FLORIDA GULF COAST COMMUNITIES By Rebecca L. Roberts, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory