By E. W. CARSWELL
TWO MEN representing the Louisville & Nashville Railroad are credited with picking Esto, in 1901, as the name of a siding for the railroad then under construction across northeastern Holmes County, Florida. The men, whose names were not recorded or remembered locally, were traveling in a luxurious buggy that was pulled by an exceptionally fine horse. Wearing bowler hats and detachable shirt collars, the men appeared to residents of the community to be railroad officials in pursuit of their duties. Will Carroll, whose home was in the area, said in 1946 that he had been among those who met with the two officials.
They called the residents of the community together, told them of their plans for the siding and a railway station and asked them what they’d like to name the place. Several suggestions were made, none of which escaped strong opposition. The railroad officials, despairing of getting agreement on a locally chosen name, finally suggested Esto.
They explained that it was of Spanish derivation, meaning approximately “this is it,” or “this is the place.” The name proved acceptable to the community, and the name was also adopted for a post office that was established on November 16, 1901. The two railroad officials, who continued southeastward from Esto, are credited with naming nearby Noma in the same manner, according to Carroll.
Construction of a railroad through Esto came about 16 years after completion of the trans-West Florida railroad line, which in 1882 linked the southern portion of Holmes County with Pensacola, Tallahassee and other points east and west. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad built the second railroad through the county. It connected Georgiana, Alabama, with Graceville, Florida, a distance of about 100 miles. The line reached its termination point at Graceville on July 16, 1902, bringing new activity and an influx of new settlers not only to Esto, but also to Noma and such other communities as Wynnlum and Eleanor.
The sawmill and turpentine industries around Esto and Noma developed quickly after the railways were completed. Huge sawmills and numerous turpentine distilleries were built nearby. Williams Naval Stores Company, B.A. Balkcom Turpentine Company and Morris Naval Stores Company were in Esto, with the Alabama-Florida Lumber Company nearby in Noma and Wynn Lumber Company slightly further away in Wynnlum. Within a few years, the communities were shipping points for lumber, cross-ties, barrel staves, shingles, piling, utility poles, naval stores, cotton, cattle and wool. Prospects for a north-south railroad that would cross the L&N lines to connect the gulf coast with the states to the north added for a few years to the promise of the area as a shipping and distribution center.
IT WAS NEARLY A YEAR after the Esto post office was established that residents of the community got around to forming a municipality. Thirty-two local citizens met on October 7, 1902, at Dr. D.F. Smith’s drug store to form the municipal corporation. The 32 men voted unanimously for incorporation; women at the time of incorporation were not voters. Esto became the second municipality in the county. Westville, then the county seat, had taken steps to incorporate four days earlier.
Like most small towns founded in the Alabama-Florida border region in that era, Esto owed its initial prosperity to the area’s timber resoures. When those resources were exhausted, agriculture became the mainstay of the economy. With the coming of the Depression of the 1920s and ’30s, Esto citizens allowed their town charter to lapse.
— From Esto: This is the Place