In the 1920s, 160-acre tracts of Walton County land just west of Camp Helen were offered as homestead sites. Lucian May began a legacy that has spanned six generations; now, his great nephew, Fount May, kindly shares some memories.
Beach life was rugged in the early days. To cross the Apalachicola River, the homesteaders used U.S. 90 (which had the only bridge, built in 1922, over the river), then from Chipley, they followed dirt and logging roads to the beach. From there, families drove west on the beach to reach their properties.
Lucian May built the house in 1925, and the government’s only requirements were for owners to live there two years and grow crops. May planted peach trees and watermelons, and though the soil refused to yield, the government was satisfied with his attempts. The Mays’ ownership was secured and deeded in 1927. Lucian dug a well and built a cypress water tank before the house burned in 1935, but Fount’s grandfather and Great Uncle Fred rebuilt with salvaged lumber. In the early 1930s, Lucian sold to May Tobacco Company, which was owned by Fount’s grandfather (also named Fount) and Uncle Fred. Electricity arrived in the early ’60s, and the home was divided into a men’s side and a women’s side (each with its own bathroom), which Fount says worked out well with huge crowds.
The homestead offered simultaneous adventure, labor, and fun. Longhorn cattle ran wild in small herds, but wild hogs were a threat, so the Mays dug and covered trash pits every day. The family brought canned vegetables, salted fish and live chickens. They also caught and boiled abundant blue crabs in sea water on the home’s wood stove and poured them onto a newspaper-covered dining table. Later, the Mays traveled every three days to Webb’s Grocery in Sunnyside Beach, where adults bought blocks of ice and children enjoyed ice cream treats.
During World War II, Germans subs were active in the Gulf, and the U.S. Coast Guard took over Emerald Crest. The family regained possession in 1946, but the cubbyholes used by the military are still in the house. When Fount was a child, many family members slept in left-behind bunk beds and played on the Coast Guard’s ping-pong table.
In 1972, the May men were in the shade tobacco business. When production moved to Central America, the family decided to start a new business and raised capital by selling acreage to what is now Alys Beach before moving the house to its current location. The family has donated the house to The Alaqua Animal Refuge. Understandably, the whole family is attached to the cottage. The memories are countless.
Fount shares, “With no light pollution back then, you could go outside on a starry
night, and the stars were absolutely amazing. They dropped all the way down to the water. We had great fun building big bonfires and sleeping on the beach. We have shed real tears over selling the place. So many people have stayed there through the years. We owe it to my great uncle, Lucian May. If he hadn’t gone down there as a young man in 1925 and homesteaded … we just owe everything to him.”
In their honor, Alys Beach recently built two condominiums on the north side of 30A. One of them is called Th e Lucian and the other one is called The May.
The name Emerald Crest came from Lucian’s uncle, F.P. May, as they stood on the bluff looking out to sea. F.P. surveyed to the east, west, the water and the green shrub brush and said, “Why, Lucian, this looks just like an Emerald Crest.”
Emerald Crest holds 95 years of memories for the May family and friends. On March 23, 2020, it was turned over to the developers of Kaiya Beach Resort. While the house will be gone, the memories, spirit of beach adventure and legacy of the May family will always remain.
By: Rita Montgomery