Just a year ago, on Nov. 17, 2016, the five-star hotel The Henderson opened for business adjacent to Henderson Beach State Park. Some of our readers might wonder just who “Henderson” was and why is the beach named Henderson. Our History Mystery this month answers both of those questions.
The beach is named after the Burney McIver Henderson’s (1905-1989) family. They owned Bagdad Land and Lumber Company of Bagdad, Florida, in the 1930s. When the war department declared the Moreno Point Military Reservation surplus in 1926 and began to sell the property, the vast majority of Destin (5,783.09 acres) was sold to one man, James Russell Moody, for $38,226.32 (or $6.61 an acre). Mr. Moody owned the Vernon Land and Timber Company, which was a turpentine company. Mr. Moody wasn’t really interested in the land. His interest was in the pine trees that grew on the land.
Even after he sold most of the land in Destin to recoup his investment, Moody retained the ability to tap the pine trees and also harvest the trees on the land he sold. His company tapped the pine trees for the sap to make turpentine and what was called Naval Stores.
Once the pine trees were tapped out and no longer useful, Vernon Land & Timber Company harvested the pine trees and sold them to Bagdad Lumber Company, which was owned by the Henderson family. Bagdad Lumber was the largest shipper of longleaf yellow pine trees in the United States. They shipped their lumber out of Pensacola, mostly to Europe, and operated for 111 years, from 1828 to 1939.
Burney Henderson was also in the land investment business as were others. On June 11, 1935, Broughton and Frances Wilkinson of Greenville, Alabama, bought 960 acres of beachfront land, a quarter mile wide and six miles long, from J. R. Moody for $25,000 or $26.05 an acre. They paid $15,000 cash and promised to repay J. R. Moody $10,000 in two installment payments. Within 18 months, the Wilkinsons sold their land on a wholesale basis in three transactions for a total of $45,000. Those buyers would establish the subdivisions of East Pass, Silver Beach, and Crystal Beach, which still retain those names today.
In the Wilkinson’s final transaction, on March 1, 1938, they made an agreement with Burney Henderson to transfer their remaining three miles of beachfront land to Henderson. In exchange, Henderson agreed to repay J. R. Moody the $10,000 still owned him by the Wilkinsons.
The Wilkinsons were very happy that they had tripled their investment of $15,000 into $45,000 in less than three years. The $10,000 that they still owed J. R. Moody would be paid by Burney Henderson as he liquidated the remaining three miles of beachfront land in Destin.
Burney Henderson did sell some of the land in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Burney also was involved with other investments in the local area, like being part owner of the Gulfarium, which opened in August 1955 on Okaloosa Island. After Bagdad Lumber Company closed in 1939, Burney moved to Pensacola and became president of the Building Supply Center located at 4800 N. Palafox Street, which still is operated today by members of his family.
The name “Henderson Beach State Park” came into use in October of 1982, when Gov. Bob Graham announced that Burney Henderson, on behalf of the Henderson family, had accepted the state’s offer to buy roughly 1.3 miles of Destin Gulf front about 1,500 feet deep. The $13.1 million offered was from Florida’s “Save Our Coast Program” and was the first purchase made by the program. Although it was a large sum of money it was probably less than half of the market price at that time. As part of the sale the state offered to name the park after the Henderson family who had owned the property since 1938.
The Florida Division of Recreation and Parks established Henderson Beach State Park on that land and opened it to the public in 1991. So we see that they named the beach after Burney McIver Henderson’s family, who sold the state one-third of the beachfront land that he had bought for $10,000 in 1938. Boy, how times have changed and how waterfront land values have increased over the past 50 years.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas, with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin - DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 and DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.