HISTORY MYSTERY: How Henderson Beach State Park got its name
Two months ago we learned that one man purchased 97% of Destin from the War Department for $38,226.22. Portions of the 5,783.09 acres that J.R. Moody of the Vernon Land and Timber Company purchased on April 25, 1935, were resold, as Moody was only interested in the turpentine value of the pine trees in Destin.
Last month we learned that one of Moody’s sales was to Frances and Broughton Wilkinson, land investors from Greenville, Alabama. In a short 20 months, the Wilkinsons resold three miles of the six miles of the gulf front land they had purchased, and the value of that land tripled in 1938. Those buyers would establish the subdivisions of East Pass, Silver Beach, and Crystal Beach, which still retain those names today. These land transactions and more are described in my book, "DESTIN Pioneer
Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940."
In this month’s History Mystery we will discuss the remaining three miles of gulf front land that the Wilkinsons sold to Burney M. Henderson for payment of their debt to the first landowner, J.R. Moody, of $10,000.
Burney McIver Henderson was the owner of Bagdad Land & Timber Company in Bagdad, Fla. 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, 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.
By 1938, Henderson’s Bagdad Land & Timber Company was in serious financial trouble. He had run out of harvestable pine trees and was turning to land investment. On March 1, 1938, Henderson bought out the Wilkinson’s remaining three miles of gulf front land in Destin with an agreement to repay the $10,000 remaining balance owned to J.R. Moody. This action took the Wilkinsons completely out of the Destin land development business and put Burney M. Henderson completely in charge.
T Burney Henderson sold some of his 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 at 4800 N. Palafox Street, which still is operated today by members of his family.
Then in 1982, Henderson’s $10,000 investment in Destin land turned out to be a gold mine. 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 one and a third miles of Destin gulf front land about 1,320 feet wide. 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.
Gulf front land wasn’t worth much in 1935 when James Russell Moody bought nearly all of Destin for $6.61 an acre. The desire for gulf front land changed as Destin changed from a small fishing village centered around the East Pass to a tourist destination with condos and businesses located all along the gulf front beaches. And, as you can see, property values dramatically increased over the years also.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker on local history. He lives in Bob Hope Village in Shalimar with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - 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, The Destin History & Fishing Museum in Destin, Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at email@example.com.