Hurricane Idalia: What to know about Keaton Beach, where storm made landfall

TAYLOR COUNTY, Fla. — Hurricane Idalia made landfall on Wednesday in the sleepy fishing town of Keaton Beach, located in the Big Bend area of Florida.

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The Category 3 storm packed winds of 125 mph at 7:45 a.m. EDT as it slammed into an area that has not had a direct hit from a hurricane in more than a century.

Here are some things to know about Keaton Beach.

Where is Keaton Beach?

Keaton Beach is located in the southern part of Taylor County. According to the Taylor County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Development website, it is located about 22.5 miles south of the county seat of Perry. It is part of the Big Bend region of Florida, the area where the state’s Panhandle curves into the peninsula along the Gulf Coast, according to The Wall Street Journal. It is about 75 miles south-southeast of the state capital of Tallahassee and 95 miles west-northwest of Gainesville, according to the Miami Herald.

Taylor County was formed on Dec. 23, 1856, and became Florida’s 34th county. It was broken off from Madison County and was named for Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the U.S. who also commanded forces in Florida during the Second Seminole War. In December 1837, Taylor, then a colonel, led 1,000 men against a Seminole encampment at Lake Okeechobee and defeated the Native Americans despite taking heavy losses, according to Brittanica.

How many people live there?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey that is quoted by Point2Homes.com, Keaton Beach has 13,032 residents, the Herald reported. The median age is 41.6 years old, and 18.13% of the population has at least a college certificate, with 6.2% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Who was Keaton Beach named for?

The community was named for two brothers, Abb and Sam Keaton, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Historians in the area believe they are the original owners of the land in the area.

The siblings began with cotton farms but switched to mullet fishing because it was a more lucrative business.

According to the Taylor County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Development website, mullet was caught off the coast near Keaton Beach, and residents from surrounding areas and south Georgia would come there to buy the fish, which were salted down for consumers’ use during the winter months.

The community got a boost when Capt. W. Alson “Cap’n” Brown, who owned turpentine works at Blue Springs Creek, began working with the brothers during the early 1920s, the Democrat reported. Brown named the beach after the brothers, and the area grew from a few houses with a church, sawmill and a pavilion to a weekend hideaway.

Keaton Beach has had several other owners through the years, but it has developed into a residential area, the Taylor County Chamber of Commerce website notes.

What is Keaton Beach known for?

Keaton Beach is the main beach area of Taylor County. It has a local pier and is home to Taylor County’s primary boat ramp, the Democrat reported. Hodges Park is an area playground.

The area is known for its abundant fishing, but scallops are what draw people to the area. Keaton Beach is one of the few places in Florida where you can harvest your own, according to the county’s Chamber of Commerce.

Taylor County’s first sponge sale was held at Keaton Beach, according to a Dec. 19, 1930, article in the Democrat. A total of $6,600 was paid in cash for 2,800 bundles of “finest grade Rock Island sponges,” the newspaper reported.

It also has been a place where bootleg alcohol was unloaded during Prohibition. according to a Herald article from Aug. 13, 1929, authorities seized more than $100,000 worth of contraband, including liquor, during a raid. Police arrested eight men and seized a boat, four trucks and “a quantity of liquor.”

“Officers said the trucks carried extra license plates from several states and were evidently headed North at the time of the seizure,” the newspaper reported.

Storm history

While Wednesday was the first time Keaton Beach has been hit by a major hurricane, it is not the first time a storm has wreaked havoc on the area.

On March 13, 1993, Keaton Beach and the area was hit by a weather system dubbed the “No Name Storm” or the “Storm of the Century,” the Democrat reported. The disturbance was a tropical cyclone that quickly formed in the Gulf of Mexico in two days and damaged areas from Florida to eastern Canada, according to the newspaper.

The storm killed 47 people in Florida and resulted in record-cold temperatures across parts of the South, producing snow flurries in Jacksonville and parts of Central Florida.

Information from online newspaper archives was used in compiling this report.

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