Native Americans once inhabited the St. Joseph Peninsula and gathered shellfish from the
bay during both the Weeden Island period (200 - 1000 AD) and
Mississippian culture (1000 - 1500 AD).
The French erected Fort Crevecouer west of Port St. Joe in 1718.
The Spanish governor of Florida in Pensacola protested the
French incursion into Spanish territory, but rather than let the Spanish take over the
fort, the French burned it before fleeing.
The marshes of St. Joseph Bay helped provided food to Native
Americans settling along the bay.
Historically called St. Joseph, the present Port St. Joe was founded in 1835. Two railroads connected the
city to the Apalachicola River for trade.
By 1837, St. Joseph was the largest town in the Territory of Florida with 6,000 residents. In 1838,
the town hosted the first Constitutional Convention for Florida, and was called the "Constitutional
In 1839, a lighthouse was built at the tip of the spit to guide shipping. The town served as a seaport until 1841 when the
town was hit by yellow fever from one of the ships. Over 75% of the town died of the disease and the rest fled,
abandoning the town. In 1843, a hurricane destroyed
the abandoned city and in 1851, the lighthouse was leveled by another hurricane. The only remnants of old
St. Joseph are tombstones in the Old St. Joseph Cemetery.
In the early 20th century, Port St. Joe was founded about two miles north of old St. Joseph.
The town's revival was directly tied to the arrival of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad in 1909. This
allowed the development of deep-water ports in the bay as well as a lumbering industry. The train also
brought Sunday day-trippers to the bay for swimming, picnicking, crabbing, scalloping, fishing and other
recreational activities. In 1925, Gulf County was created and Port St. Joe serves as the county seat.
The U.S. Army used the peninsula for training during World War II. From 1962 to 1963, the U.S. Army
Reserve took over the remaining military lands for training exercises. As a result of local interest, the
site was dedicated as the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in 1967. On October 21, 1969,
the Governor and Cabinet adopted by resolution 18 water bodies to become aquatic preserves, including St.
Over the years, Gulf County has experienced slow growth accompanied by a minimal tourism
base. The county's economy was dominated by the paper mill until it was closed in 1998. Since then, the
economy has shifted from paper production-related industry to tourism, resulting in a steady increase
in the number of tourists. This has also led to a demand for homes. Coastal development is primarily
related to beach vacation homes that are used as rental property.