The city of Bonifay is a charming little place located in Northwest Florida and serves as the county seat in Holmes County.
The city has many historical sites, including the Keith Cabin, a 19th-century log cabin listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Its architectural integrity and craftsmanship continue to be admired by visitors to this day.
Another historical attraction is the Waits Mansion, a two-story Mediterranean Revival style home located at 209 West Kansas Avenue in Bonifay. Lumber company owner George Orkney Waits built the mansion in the 1920s.
If you’re ready to sit back and relax, we suggest grabbing a glass of sweet tea from the Holiday Restaurant and heading to the pool at the Holiday Inn Express or one of the locally-owned motels, all conveniently located near restaurants and Interstate 10.
If you prefer to sleep under the stars, a unique place to set up camp is the Outback Springs RV Resort right off I-10 at Exit 112, about 50 miles north of Panama City Beach. The name fits its description perfectly. With two of the owners being Australian residents, they offer travelers a unique blend of Australian and Southern hospitality along with the true spirit of the Australian Outback with long pull-through sites with full hookup and a meeting room for groups.
There's a variety of city events scheduled throughout the year. One major event that brings thousands to Bonifay every year is the Northwest Florida Championship Rodeo, parade and dance. The Bonifay Kiwanis Club hosts the event every year, which originally started as a fundraiser in December of 1946. Since its inception, every first full weekend in October goes country at Memorial Field, a tradition that continues to provide entertainment for the whole family. Because the Northwest Florida Championship is a PRCA sanctioned Ram Rodeo series, some of the best rodeo cowboys and cowgirls participate with hopes of scoring more points toward the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida.
Bonifay is also home to the “The Biggest All-Night Sing in the World,” a more than 60-year tradition held the first Saturday of July, where choirs sing throughout the night. The Down Home Street Festival, featuring a 5k, antique car show and more, is held annually in March and the Holmes County Outdoor Expo, presented by the University of Florida/IFAS Holmes County Extension, is held in September.
If you’re searching for a bite to eat, search no further than M & W Smokehouse Barbecue on Highway 90 or fresh seafood and fried oysters are favorites at Castaway Seafood Restaurant. And if you’re in the mood for comfort food, there’s the Holiday Restaurant, Pho Noodle, and Donutland Express, voted one of the South’s Best Bakeries by Southern Living. Locally owned and operated by veterans, Donutland has been serving the Bonifay and surrounding areas with handmade-daily, German-style doughnuts for more than ten years.
Ponce de Leon, Florida
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is located in the southern part of town, north of I-10. For over 100 years, locals and visitors alike flock to the state park for its beautiful springs. The main spring is a shocking 68° F, year round. The bottom is sand and limestone, giving the popular swimming area a light greenish blue appearance. For generations, people have been taking a dip in the clear waters. In the late 1800s, children would begin their mornings by placing watermelons in the springs, then leave to work on the farm during the day and return to the springs to fetch their cold watermelons to eat and cool off. Ponce de Leon State Park continues to offer family fun, whether it’s 300 yards of crystal-clear water flowing in what’s called the “jungle river” or its trails for hiking, jogging, and biking. It’s also a great spot to have a picnic and do some bird watching.
The town has the truest limestone-based, cave-fed springs west of Hwy 81. Vortex Spring is one of the largest diving facilities in the state of Florida and is home to the red and white “Diver Down” flag. The flag was invented in the 1950s by Vortex founder Denzel “Doc” Dockery from Michigan, who wanted a flag to keep boats at a safe distance from dive boats. He used a combination of the Navy’s red ‘Bravo’ flag that was used to indicate danger and sewed a horizontal white stripe across it. The “diver down” flag is widely used for scuba diving and has saved countless lives since its creation.
Vortex Spring is a family-owned and operated business since the early ’70s. Doc’s son Daryl and his wife Angela keep the resort and its many amenities running for visitors to enjoy. To this day, Vortex Spring Adventures is recognized as one of the best and safest diving resorts in the country. This 500+ acre resort produces approximately 32 million gallons of crystal “gin-clear” water daily for diving, swimming and sliding down one of its ten slides. Vortex Spring boasts natural caverns with a depth of 150 feet inside the underwater cave system. They offer different levels of on-site dive training, from PADI certifications to cave diving certifications, and with the Dow Jones, a 28-foot sailboat sunken in the spring, their trained and certified dive instructors offer penetration dives, taking you to a whole other dive classification. And here’s a fun fact about the fish in the spring: they love string cheese!
With campgrounds and lodging facilities, visitors can stay and explore the resort for as long as they want. “We want our guests to come here for the life experiences. Vortex Spring Adventures is here for families to make memories,” said Owner Angela Dockery.
If all the exploring has you hungry for something delicious to eat, two local food trucks offer a variety of food and treats. The Lunchbox cooks up foot-long hot dogs, burgers, and BBQ. For dessert, swing by Brainfreeze for 15 flavors of ice cream, hand-dipped cones, sundaes, and waffle bowls.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park and Vortex Spring, home to the Diver Down flag, are the main attractions in Ponce de Leon.
Westville is located in southern Holmes County, west of the Choctawhatchee River, where U.S. Route 90 passes through the small town of nearly 300.
Notably, Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House” series of books lived in the Popular Head Community of Westville for a short time in 1891. The story goes, on October 1, 1890, three of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s relatives, including her cousin Peter Franklin Ingalls began a trip from Stockholm, Wisconsin down the Mississippi River on a sailboat named “Edith.” They took the trip in high hopes of finding new places to settle. They recorded this trip daily in a diary. They came to their stopping point in Westville, known then as Webb Mill. Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo James and their daughter Rose lived at this homesite from October 1891 to August 1892, little less than a year. Laura’s daughter, Rose, later wrote a short fictionalized story about her family’s time spent in Florida titled “Innocence.” The story has been featured in Harper’s Magazine and won an O’Henry prize in 1922.
Another notable former resident of Westville was George William Curry, also known as Uncle Willie. He was born June 24, 1888. Around 1920, Uncle Willie opened a ferry as a way of transportation from the west side of the Choctawhatchee [chok-tuh-hach-ee] River to the east side, known as Curry’s Landing. A person could load their horse and wagon onto the ferry that was stabilized with a cable and Uncle Wille could pull them to the other side.
Before the flood in 1929, Uncle Willie’s store was a place where people did their trading. People would come from miles around on covered wagons pulled by an ox. Things one could purchase from his store were coffee and sugar.
Portions of Westville lie within the floodplain of Choctawhatchee River. The Choctawhatchee River Blueway is a Florida Designated Paddling Trail. Along the trail, you will find springs, places to camp, boat ramps, picnic facilities, Florida conservation lands, and wetlands. Take in the cypress trees and parts of the regular North Florida flora and fauna. Wildlife includes alligators, and sturgeon are known to frequent the river during spawning.
Located in northeastern Holmes, Esto got its start in 1901 when two representatives of the L&N Railroad picked the site as a location for a new station. They met with representatives of the community, but could not come to a consensus on a name for the new station. After much debate, the group finally settled on the name Esto, which is said to be of Spanish derivation. The name means “this is it” or “this is the place.”
As the legend goes, deep in the swamps of Esto is the home of a demon-possessed, red-eyed alligator monster that made his way down from Alabama more than 100 years ago. Known as the “Loch Ness Monster” of Northwest Florida, Two-Toe Tom gained his name when he caught one foot in a monstrous steel bear trap and escaped with only two toes. The monster is said to inhabit nearby Sand Hammock Lake at the end Wiggler Lane, as well as other lakes and swamps in the vicinity. The monster is said to be more than 20-feet-long and has a reputation for attacking both livestock and humans. He was first described in Carl Carmer’s 1934 travelogue, “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Esto celebrates his legend each year with its Two-Toe Tom Festival, and sightings of him continue to this day.
From the park at Esto, return down 2nd Street North to State Road 79 and turn left. Follow State Road 79 south for 1.6 miles and turn right on State Road 2. Then drive west for 5.9 miles and turn left onto County Road 177 and immediately pull over for the next stop. Here is the Daniel Boone Trail.
State Road 2 follows the approximate route of the historic Pensacola – St. Augustine Road. This narrow horse path was the first major “superhighway” connecting the old East Florida capital of St. Augustine with the West Florida capital of Pensacola. It likely dates to the first Spanish era and is one of the true “Old Spanish Trails” in Florida. The road was first mapped by the British in 1778. They had gained control of Florida following the end of the French & Indian War in 1763. The famed American explorer and frontiersman Daniel Boone came to explore the newly acquired lands in 1765, leading a small expedition of friends and associates on a long walk across Florida. Back then, The Pensacola – St. Augustine Road was the only major trail from one side of the region to the other, and it is believed that Boone and his party followed the path. They likely passed nearby in 1765.
Esto is rich in history, but also in Lottery sales. The small town is ranked in the Top Ten of the “winningest” locations. The Friendly Mini Market at 1080 North U.S. Highway 75 falls in Florida’s Top Ten for both gross sales and winning ticket sales. Store Owner Jose Martinez says, “It’s the lucky store."
Named after the Noma Mill Company, the sleepy town with a population of 211 earned its first charter in 1904 during the timber rush.
Over a century later, the old sawmill is no longer operational, but almost fittingly Noma’s Mayor Robert “Buddy” Skipper and his family own and live on the historic site.
Across from the town hall is Noma’s park, including a baseball field. The park was renamed after the long-standing Mayor, where a monument and pavilion are dedicated in his honor.
You can often find residents fishing and skipping rocks in local creeks.
Every year, volunteers come together around Christmas to make fruit baskets to give out to town residents. They also put on the Annual Holiday meal.