Just off Hwy 98 amid the bustling malls and resorts of Miramar Beach, Florida is a hidden gem that even some locals have yet to explore. In fact, traveling down the densely forested Village Road and through the gates of Four Mile Village is like taking a step back in time. Four Mile Village is reminiscent of the old Florida before the big hotels and condos. When people came to the area to truly get away from it all, surround themselves in nature and relax. Days were filled with fishing, walking the white sand beaches, and splashing in the Gulf with the kids.
Designed for quality not quantity, Four Mile Village has fewer than 50 homesites, each sitting on oversized lots with height restrictions to preserve gulf views throughout the neighborhood. Here, you'll see houses carefully situated around tranquil Lake Fuller, or sitting beachfront with completely unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico. Other houses, still just moments from the water, are peppered among wooded areas with canopied oaks and dense shrubs. Some of the original residences, inspired by the design of famed architect Walter Gropius and his pupils, still exist today.
Bordered on the east by Coffeen Nature Preserve, a large portion of the community is protected and will never be developed. To the west is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park a 1,643-acre natural expanse of undeveloped forest with three miles of white sand beach, fronted by lofty dunes. The gulf-front neighborhood features beach access for all homeowners. The gulf access is called “the gap” and is the size of an entire lot, an expensive rarity in this area.
Although you may feel as though you're off the beaten track, Tops’l Beach and Racquet Resort and Grand Boulevard Mall are just five minutes away.
Rich in Florida History
Contribution to War Effort
Rich in history, this little piece of Florida paradise has withstood the ravages of war to finally emerge as the Four Mile Village we know today. It all began just prior to the second World War when Massachusetts Attorney General, Robert Bushnel purchased 2,000 acres of land from the Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. This purchase included the acreage which would eventually become Four Mile Village.
Robert's sister, Dorothy Coffeen, wrote an article about Four Mile Village in The DeFuniak Springs Herald-Breeze from June 24, 1976. Here she describes their first impressions of the area:
"When they first saw the land and bought it, it was so beautiful that it seemed like a special gift from God, unlike any coastal region anywhere, and entirely unspoiled by man's peculiar instincts toward destruction."
Before Bushnel could begin to enjoy this incredible area, the war effort intervened. Nestled on an elevated ridge amid rolling sand dunes, and close to the Eglin Air Force Base, this was the ideal testing site for the emerging JB-2 missile. These motives were unbeknownst to Bushnel when he leased the land to the military for a price of $1/year, to be used in a top-secret operation.
Without haste, roads were constructed, along with four missile launch ramps, four bunkers, an observation tower and housing for the military personnel. No longer a tranquil setting, an estimated 600 missiles were deployed over the Gulf of Mexico, as far as 150 miles. Today, you can actually view remnants of the iron-track launch ramps, bunkers, and some of the historical buildings.
A JB-2 missile prepares to deploy over the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy Coffeen Nature Preserve.
WWII Bunkers as seen today in Four Mile Village
WWII Barracks as seen today in Four Mile Village
The Emergence of Four Mile Village
Finally, in 1945 at the end of the war, the land was returned to Robert Bushnel. He formed a partnership with his family and incorporated as Four Mile Village Inc. Its very survival was probably due to Dorothy Coffeen, Robert's sister. Hell-bent on conserving as much of the property in its natural state as possible, her conservation efforts have resulted in the pristine, beachfront community that you see today.
The devastation was immence. But under the wreckage, the land wasn't completely destroyed. Ravaged, and covered by rotting buildings and debris, but still there, somewhere. It was this hope that motivated them for eighteen months, scouring through the ruins and trying to make some sense of what could be salvaged. The mess hall re-purposed as the Coffeen family home, is still standing today.
An Important Discovery
Sometimes devastation can expose that which was previously hidden, leading to new discoveries. One such occurrence, happened here in Four Mile Village, forever securing it as an important part of our ancient history. Before human intervention, TopSail Bluff was once the tallest point between Panama City and Pensacola. The bluff was bull-dozed to remove new growth, instigating erosion of the sandy soil beneath. After several years, about eight feet of the surface had blown away, revealing a stunning archeological find.
Dorothy Coffeen describes the discovery -
"The coals of three fires laid in triangular formation with Indian artifacts around them, just as they had been left."
After having the coals analysed, they learned that the fires dated back six or seven hundred years before Christ.
View from the sand dunes overlooking the Gulf at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Coffeen Nature Preserve
In order to sustain their investment, the family eventually sold off some of the property north of Hwy. 98 (to become Sandestin Resort), and along the waterfront, but not before Dorothy instilled strict building requirements for the developer (Ed Walline). Height restrictions were put in place to ensure the view was never obstructed.
She transferred two hundred acres to the Sierra Club Foundation (part of the Florida Audubon) to ensure its natural use for future years. Since 2004, the 210-acre Coffeen Nature Preserve has been owned and managed by the non-profit, Coffeen Land Trust (an environmental organization). Dorothy Coffeen still watches over her beloved Four Mile Village to this day, buried in one of her favorite pine groves.
The preserve is privately run by local couple Susan and Bruce Paladini who act as caretakers and run both the educational tours and vacation rentals on the land. Contact them at (850) 622-3700 to make a reservation for a guided tour. You can find them at 146 Coffeen Hill Rd, Santa Rosa Beach, FL, 32459.
When you visit Four Mile Village and the Coffeen Nature Preserve, enjoy peaceful walks through the pine forest trails, pass an 80-acre coastal dune lake, and explore the raw, natural beauty of the Emerald Coast. Watch for local wildlife such as white-tailed deer, raccoon, fox, opossum, bobcat, armadillos and alligator.
You'll be transported back in time when you hear the stories and view the rare artifacts from the Second World War. Explore the remaining bunkers and military ruins, and walk along side the metal tracks used as launch ramps for the missiles. When you arrive at the beach, remnants of civilization in the form of Sandestin condos can be seen far off in the distance, but for the most part, it's expansive crystalline beach and emerald-green water as far as the eye can see. The thundering barrage of discharging artillery remain as echoes in the past.
These words quoted by Dorothy Coffeen perfectly describe her vision for Four Mile Village:
“A place of peace and quiet and a haven for all God’s creatures. It is a place where Nature can take precedence over the superficial, and where those who can appreciate Nature in her various moods and forms can find a haven; where all of God’s small creatures can live their lives without molestation, suffering neither man’s indifference nor pursuit.” – Dorothy Coffeen, 1968
This video does a lovely job of presenting Four Mile Village as you see it today:
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