Posted on 1/19/2022

30A's Missing Pier

If you’ve ever been to Inlet Beach and strolled along the sparkling shores, you may have noticed the not-so-small remains of an old pier. They’re not hard to miss, that’s for sure! Maybe you walked on by or even set up your beach gear right next to the pier’s remnants without a second thought. Or, perhaps, you wondered at the history behind those old wooden bones sticking out of the sand. Well, we’d love to tell you!

Located on 30A’s eastern edge, Inlet Beach is named after Phillips Inlet. What would eventually become the modern-day Inlet Beach community began in the 1920s. In the late 1920s, Robert E. Hicks and his wife Margaret bought 185 acres of land in the area—what now amounts to Camp Helen State Park. They built their summer home, which is currently the Camp Helen Lodge. Unfortunately, Robert Hicks passed away the same year that construction on the home was finished. Due to those circumstances and hardships from the Great Depression, Margaret and her daughter converted the estate into a resort, later building cottages known as the Rainbow Cottages on the property.

Over time, the Inlet Beach community continued to evolve. In the late 1940s, Inlet Beach was commonly referred to as Soldiers Beach. The reason for the moniker was that the government used a lottery system to allocate land in the area to World War II veterans. Winners of the lottery had the opportunity to receive 1.25 acres of land upon agreeing to pay a fee to build an 800-square foot home on the property. It was a great opportunity for soldiers and their families to start fresh and continue to build the beach community.

Around this same time in 1945, the Hicks’ property was sold to Avondale Mills of Alabama. Wondering where the pier comes into all of this? After Avondale Mills purchased the Hicks’ property, the company used it as a vacation destination for its employee incentive program. Not a bad place for a work retreat! In an effort to create memorable vacations and relaxing time off for their employees, Avondale Mills built lodging and a recreation hall on the property. They also added the pier. The pier provided a place for their workers and other tourists to fish, dock their boats and get family photos. It was a place to make memories!

Unfortunately, most of the pier was destroyed by Hurricane Eloise in 1975. The Cat 4 hurricane hit the Emerald Coast with raging winds and a nearly 20-foot storm surge. Though most of the pier was ruined, the wooden pilings stood firm in their sandy foundation. Over the years, the pilings have continued to weather wind, rain, and storms. But they stubbornly remain, offering a unique glimpse into the past of this beautiful area.

Now, Inlet Beach and Camp Helen State Park are a lovely mix of modern times and days gone by. When you visit this Florida oasis, you can spend countless hours lounging on the beach, playing in the sand, splashing in the waves, paddleboarding, and exploring—all the typical vacation things! However, you can also discover the past to see how the area evolved into the picture-perfect community it is today. Visit Camp Helen State Park and take a self-guided tour of the old Rainbow Cottages. Explore the Hicks’ summer home-turned-lodge and recreation hall. Take a picture beside the iconic missing pier. In this way, you can truly make your 30A vacation one to remember!

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