Port St. Joe is on Florida's "Forgotten Coast" at the intersection of US-98 and State Road 71. The population is about 3,400. It is about 23 miles west of Apalachicola.
The town of St. Joseph was founded in 1835 and it was largely abandoned after a serious yellow fever outbreak in 1841 was followed by destructive hurricanes in 1843 and 1851.
A new town was founded nearby when the railroad came to the area in 1909. Town founders decided on the more casual name of 'Port St. Joe" and that's what it's been named ever since.
Port St Joe is on the shore of St. Joseph Bay, an arm of the Gulf of Mexico that is about 15 miles long in the north-south direction and 6 miles wide.
For most of the twentieth century, Port St Joe was known to tourists and Floridians as a smelly paper mill town. The St Joe Company opened a large paper mill in 1938 and the town prospered with good jobs in the mill and surrounding forests.
Tourists, however, usually sped through the town to get away from the stinky paper mill smell. Locals, however, said it smelled like "bread and butter" to them.
The mill closed in 1999 and along with it went most of the area's good paying jobs. Unemployment soared to 20%. The town lost half its population. The buildings on the mill site have since been demolished, leaving a large open site on St. Joseph Bay that will no doubt be developed.
That's the bad news, especially if you worked at the paper mill. The good news is that tourists rediscovered Port St Joe and started coming to stay again on their weekends and vacations and to build vacation homes and permanent residences.
The Forgotten Coast is a name created by local chambers of commerce after the paper mill closed to describe this area of the Gulf coast and generate some enthusiasm for tourism.
Many of the permanent residents of this coast want to remain forgotten, and send me emails asking me to stop writing about their quiet area of the state. Sorry, too late!
St. Joseph Peninsula is the barrier island that protects the waters of the bay. Most of the peninsula is taken up by the nine mile long St. Joseph Peninsula State Park with some of the finest beaches in the world. Several years ago Dr. Beach pronounced it the best beach in the United States.
The bay has a narrow opening to the Gulf on its north end and is connected to the mainland on the south through Cape San Blas. The bay is known for its abundant scallop population and many people flock to the area for scallop season between July 1 and September 24.
These physical advantages made Port St Joe an important early port in this part of the state, and the port still has an active operation. Even when the Gulf of Mexico is rough and stormy, the bay stays nice and calm and perfect for boating and fishing.
Modern Port St Joe has nice marinas, motels and inns, many restaurants and shops, and is emerging as a laid back tourist destination.
Local governments have so far done a good job of preventing the proliferation of high rise hotel and condos that soar above the not so forgotten coast to the west.