HISTORY MYSTERY: Destin’s Gulf front property TRIPLED in value

H. C. “Hank” Klein
Broughton and Frances Wilkinson – 1930s

Last month 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.

Our History Mystery this month is about one of Moody’s sales and how the value of that land tripled in a mere 20 months.

When Frances B. Wilkinson and her husband Broughton Wilkinson, land developers from Greenville, Alabama, saw the beautiful beachfront land at Destin being offered for sale, they just could not resist. They believed that, with the construction of U.S. 98 (Florida State Road No. 115) bringing road access to the small fishing village of Destin, the time was right for beachfront subdivisions.

On June 11, 1936, the Wilkinson’s purchased a 1,320-foot-wide (one-quarter mile) strip of beachfront land (six miles long) from the old East Pass to the Walton County line directly from J. R. Moody for $25,000. They paid $15,000 in cash and J. R. Moody took a note for the remaining $10,000. But they turned out to be resellers and developers of the land on more of a wholesale level than the retail level.

They preferred to sell large tracts of land at high markups to others who would subdivide the property and resell lots to newcomers. If you want to learn more about the land history of early Destin, my book, “DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from1819 – 1940,” provides readers a detailed early history of the area.

Crystal Beach - On December 7, 1936, the Wilkinsons sold the first piece of their waterfront property. The one-mile tract was just one mile east of the Walton County line. Tyler and Ida Calhoun wanted to develop the tract into a subdivision. The Wilkinsons held a mortgage, and Calhoun had the property platted and developed into the Crystal Beach subdivision.

East Pass - Next, the Wilkinsons platted a new subdivision directly to the east of Tyler Calhoun’s Calhoun Subdivision on the old East Pass.

Their original East Pass subdivision was on both sides of State Road No. 115 (U.S. 98) and was 1,674.50 feet long. It was surveyed by C. H. Overman of Overman & Carter Inc., civil engineers of Bagdad, Florida, in October 1936. The new subdivision consisted of six blocks — Block A, B, C, D, E, and F — and was approved by the Okaloosa County Commission on Feb. 9, 1937.

Silver Beach - The Wilkinson’s next transaction was to sell another large tract of land to a developer from West Palm Beach, Florida. James A. Dew purchased what he would name the Silver Beach subdivision on June 3, 1937, for $35,000 ($231.41 per acre). It consisted of the next large tract of land to the east of East Pass Subdivision and contained 164 acres of land. The cost per acre of $213.41 was a huge increase, on a cost-per-acre basis, from the $6.61 per acre J. R. Moody had paid for the same land just two years and two months earlier when Moody purchased the land from the War Department.

On the same day, James A. Dew purchased the property from the Wilkinsons; Dew also transferred his newly purchased tract to the Coastal-Glades Realty Company of West Palm Beach, which James A. Dew already owned.

Immediately after purchasing the tract of land, Dew had it surveyed and platted on June 18, 1937, by C. H. Overman, CE, of Bagdad, Florida. The Silver Beach subdivision was 1,353 feet wide and 5,280 feet long. The one-mile-long subdivision was the western-most mile of the east four miles (measuring along the centerline of State Road No. 115), as measured from the Walton County line. With the purchase price of $35,000 for 164 acres (a one-mile tract), Frances and Broughton Wilkinson probably felt like they had won the lottery. They had purchased a six-mile tract of waterfront property just one year earlier for $25,000 or $26.04 per acre. With this one transaction, the Wilkinsons recouped all of their initial investment in just one year and had $10,000 to spare. This was only their third major sale, and they still had three miles of waterfront property left to sell.

Maybe, just maybe, they needed to take their profits and leave the land development business. The next transaction would be the beginning of that effort.

Partner, Burney M. Henderson - Two months later, on Aug. 3, 1937, both Frances B. Wilkinson and Broughton Wilkinson signed two important documents. The first was a deed that brought in Burney M. Henderson of Bagdad as a 50% partner. The second document was a power of attorney, which allowed Henderson to control their land at Destin and sell parcels of the land under these agreements.

Another transaction between the Wilkinsons and Henderson was made on March 1, 1938, transferring all rights in the Destin land owned by the Wilkinsons to Henderson including an unpaid mortgage balance owing to Vernon Land & Timber Company in the amount of $10,000. This action took the Wilkinsons completely out of the Destin land development business and put Burney M.

Henderson completely in charge.

Frances and Broughton Wilkinson had paid $15,000 for their six-mile tract of Gulf Front land in Destin in 1936. One year and nine months later they had sold three miles of their six-mile tract for $45,000. They tripled their investment. The $10,000 unpaid mortgage balance owning to J. R. Moody was transferred to Burney M. Henderson as was the remaining three miles of unsold Gulf Front acreage.

History Mystery by H. C. “Hank” Klein

Next month you will learn exactly who Burney Henderson was and what he did with those three miles of Gulf Front Land.

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 klein@aristotle.net.