Southern States is a subsidiary of The J. M. Burguières Co., Limited, the oldest single family-owned land holding company currently in operation in Louisiana. In a series of transactions from 1999 to 2002, the Burguières heirs consolidated their interests in Southern States within The J. M. Burguières Companies.
Southern States Land & Timber LLC, a key citizen of the South Florida economy since the early 1900’s, once owned about 2,000,000 acres in what
are now Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Dade, Collier, Lee, Hendry, and Desoto counties. By the mid 1970’s most of the company’s land interests
had been sold, except for reserved mineral interests in Palm Beach and Martin counties.
From the early 1900’s to the 1950’s the company
developed experimental and demonstration farms involving sugar cane, ramie, citrus
and varieties of vegetables. Loxahatchee Groves was built on the vision of Southern States’ ambitious and eager sales manager, George Bensel,
who founded the community in 1917. Loxahatchee Groves is the oldest of the western communities, an area of 7,867 acres. Loxahatchee Groves
got its name from the Indian dialect for “turtle creek” and the citrus groves that occupied the land prior to settlement. Southern States was
also instrumental in the eradication of the cattle tick and the development of the cattle industry.
Today, Southern States is wholly owned by The J. M. Burguières Co., Limited, formed in 1877 by Jules M. Burguières. Mr. Burguières’ son Jules,
Jr., an early owner of Southern States, served on its Board, and was active in South Florida’s economic development. In 1920 he founded and
was the first Chairman of the Florida Development Board, the predecessor organization to today’s Florida Chamber of Commerce. In the 1920’s
he was a director of the Central Farmers Trust Company in West Palm Beach. The J. M. Burguières Companies are headquartered in Franklin, Louisiana.
EVENTS AND MILESTONES IN THE HISTORY OF SOUTHERN STATES LAND & Timber
1850 to 1896 (Pre-formation of Southern States)
- 1850—U.S. Congress passed the Swamp Land Act of 1850 which allowed the subsidized sale of swamps and overflow lands to private investors.
- 1881—Hamilton Disston contracted with Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund to acquire 4,000,000 acres of land with at least part of the
consideration being the drainage and reclamation of the lands by Disston.
- February 10, 1882 Jules M. Burguières, Jr. is born.
- 1882-1883—New Orleans Times-Democrat sponsors two trips to south Florida. The newspaper editorialized: “It would result in material advantages
to the country by making known a rich and promising section, hitherto closed to settlement.”
- 1896—Hamilton Disston’s heirs inherit his substantial Florida land holdings.
- May 24, 1902—Southern States Land & Timber Company formed as a Louisiana corporation. Directors—Pearl Wight-President, Maurice Stern-Treasurer,
T. H. McCarthy-Vice President, Ira Wight, George A. Hero, John M. Dresser-Secretary, and Edward Wisner.
- July 19, 1902—Southern States Land & Timber Company acquires nearly 2,000,000 acres from the heirs of Hamilton Disston at 25 cents/acre.
Shortly after the sale, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started work on the West Palm Beach (C-51) Canal, opening it for travel in February 1917.
- 1903—George F. Bensel began his career at Jacksonville as Secretary of Southern States Land & Timber Company.
- April 13, 1903—first sale of lands (636 acres), funds used as capital to conduct development and research.
- 1905 to 1907—Monte M. Lemann provides legal counsel and negotiates with State and Federal authorities regarding drainage law and tax regulations.
- May 2, 1907—Pensacola, Federal Judge Charles Swayne, ruling in a suit brought by Southern States Land and Timber Company, ordered the Trustees
of the Internal Improvement Fund to sell or dispose of swamp and overflowed lands for purposes of drainage and reclamation.
- July 7, 1907—Southern States Land & Timber LLC is registered in Florida.
- May 25, 1916—Jules M. Burguières Jr. acquires an interest in Southern States.
- 1916--Southern States Land and Timber Company sold ranches on a vast tract from Okeechobee Boulevard north to the St. Lucie Canal.
- 1916 to 1919—Maurice Stern serves as President of Southern States until his death. Maurice’s son, Edgar B. Stern served as President from 1919
- 1917—Loxahatchee Groves was founded as a cattle, dairy, agricultural and citrus demonstration. Groves were planted near where the Palms West
Hospital is located. George F. Bensel was the principal representative for the Company. The Bensel Family was a key contributor to the long history
of Loxahatchee Groves.
- August, 1917—Southern States Land engineer T.G. Thorgesen moved to the area. Over three years he constructed the first topographical survey
map of Loxahatchee Groves by, according to local lore, walking the entire area Southern States Land & Timber LLC was responsible for bringing
other developers and investors to South Florida, selling land to: Barron Collier—610,000 acres (Collier County), F. J. Bolles—293,000
acres, W. J. (Fingy) Connors—large areas of the Everglades, and Seaboard Air Line Railroad—100,000 acres.
- January 13, 1920—Florida Development Board (predecessor organization of the Florida Chamber of Commerce) is formed and elects Jules M. Burguières
as its Chairman.
- October 23, 1924—Southern States Land & Timber LLC sold 100,000 acres at $15/acre for agricultural development by Seaboard Railroad.
- 1925—Florida land boom and the collapse which inevitably followed.
- 1926—Harvey Building completed in West Palm Beach; Southern States Land & Timber LLC moves from the Pioneer Bank building to the Harvey Building.
- April 9, 1926—George F. Bensel, after having served as Vice President and Treasurer, is elected President of the Greater Palm Beach Chamber of
- January 1929 – George F. Bensel was elected to and joined Jules M. Burguières on the Board of Directors of the Central Farmers Trust.
- July 28, 1931—Directors of the Southern States Land & Timber LLC were: J. M. Burguières, Arthur Lemann, Edgar B. Stern, S. W. Stern
and T. H. McCarthy.
- December 11, 1936—Southern States Land & Timber LLC, now a Delaware corporation, is registered in Florida.
- March 26, 1943—George F. Bensel elected President of Southern States.
- December 8, 1943—Southern States Land & Timber LLC implemented a policy of reserving mineral rights on lands it sold.
- December 26, 1944—One of first lots sold in Loxahatchee Groves.
- November 1, 1948—Southern States Land & Timber LLC sells its interest in Palm Beach-Loxahatchee Company and certain lands to George F. Bensel.
- April 20, 1951—Over 60,000 acres are sold to Indian Trail Ranch, Inc.
- October 29, 1956—After obtaining the cooperation and concurrence of Indian Trail Ranch, Inc., the State of Florida and the Game and Fresh Water
Fish Commission, Southern States’ Board approves a swap of mineral interests to permit Pratt & Whitney to acquire the site for its plant on
- 1959—Death claims two long time Vice Presidents—Edgar B. Stern and Monte Lemann.
- September 7, 1960—Death claims Jules M. Burguières 1962—Death claims George F. Bensel.
- January 13, 1971—Last Shareholders meeting in West Palm Beach held in 701 Harvey Building.
- November, 1971—Negotiated mineral leases with Phillips Petroleum Company and Shell Oil Company covering approximately 145,000 acres.
- May 7, 1974—Sale of last 4,282 acres out of original 2,000,000 acres.
- May 8, 1974—Last of Southern States’ files and office items were removed from 301 Harvey Building, West Palm Beach.
- 1974—Southern States Land & Timber LLC fully transfers administrative operations to New Orleans.
- 1976—First MRTA filing made to preserve Southern States’ surface access rights across Martin and Palm Beach counties. Notices involving over
1,200 parcels and about 300,000 acres were sent by Clerks of Court.
- 1999—The J. M. Burguières Companies consolidate Southern States interests owned individually by heirs of Mr. Burguières.
- 2000 and 2001—Tender offers by The J. M. Burguières Companies to the remaining shareholders result in the acquisition of all Southern States
- 2002—Merged Southern States Land & Timber Corporation ( Delaware) into Southern States Land & Timber LLC ( Florida) a wholly owned subsidiary
of The J. M. Burguières Co., Limited and moved administrative offices to Franklin, Louisiana.
- 2003— Form of surface rights waiver changed to a sequential one in favor of the current owner. Result is lower prices for current transactions
and subsequent extensions of the waivers for future owners.
- 2003 to 2007—Significant eminent domain actions by South Florida Water Management District in both Palm Beach and Martin Counties, and Florida
Power & Light Company in Palm Beach County, result in the largest transactions in the history of Southern States.
- 2005—Southern States Land & Timber LLC website goes live on the World Wide Web.
- 2006—Second MRTA filing made to preserve Southern States’ surface access rights across Martin and Palm Beach and Indian River counties. Notices
involving over 15,000 parcels and about 178,000 acres were sent by Clerks of Court.
- 2012—Succession in Company management and governance brings 5th generation descendants of Jules M. Burguières into Southern States’ leadership
- 2013—Partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Martin County, Inc. to waive surface access rights on its 40 home site Carter Park Development in
- 2015—Acquired Lake Wales Ridge Conservation Bank in Central Florida providing habitat for endangered Sand Skinks and Scrub-jays. Conservation
credits from this bank will permit continued expansion of roads, linear infrastructure, recreational and residential development in Lake, Orange,
Osceola and Polk counties.
- The foregoing information was compiled from public and private records and is believed to be reliable, however the Company makes no warranty as to its completeness and accuracy.
GEORGE F. BENSEL’S HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF SOUTHERN STATES LAND AND TIMBER
The following was excerpted from former Corporate Secretary George F. Bensel’s 1951 handwritten history of Southern States Land & Timber Company, provided to the Company Board by his granddaughter, Jeanne Bensel Hinz.
SOUTHERN STATES LAND & TIMBER COMPANY AND SOUTH FLORIDA 1902 TO 1950
Shortly after Flagler extended the Florida East coast as far south as Miami, and Plant built the Atlantic Coast Line to Fort Myers on the Gulf,
the Southern States Land &Timber Company, a Louisiana corporation, purchased nearly two million acres of South Florida lands. The population
of Florida (1900 census) was 528,540. Today there are approximately 2,430,000 permanent residents in the state, one of the most rapidly growing
in the Union. This growth did not just happen. It followed careful planning and sound development. The Southern States Land & Timber Company
has been an important factor in connection with South Florida’s development.
After purchasing this immense area, the Company employed surveyors, engineers, and cruisers to report on these lands. The reports showed a virgin territory consisting of some pine and some cypress timber, vast prairies, and large areas of potentially rich agricultural lands. The only inhabitants were occasional squatters, some cattlemen ranging large heads of cattle on the grassy prairies, a few fugitives and desperadoes, and the remnants of the Seminole Indians from whom this entire country was wrested.
Soon after acquiring title, the Company sold one tract of 122,000 acres of prairie land to cattle interests in Manatee County, and another large area of similar lands, also to cattle people in DeSoto County. A block of 84,000 acres of pine woods in what is now Martin County was purchased by Detroit interests. These initial sales were profitable, and the Company was then prepared for actual development of parts of the rich farming lands at various locations throughout its ownership.
The State of Florida and the Southern States Land & Timber Company, in 1902, had title to one half of the deeper muck lands in what is known as the Upper Everglades, the most valuable portion of that entire three million acres of Glade land, the largest solid body of muck land in the world. In connection with the State and other large interests owning adjoining lands, after many conferences in Tallahassee between the Governor and his Cabinet and other interested land owners, the Everglades Drainage District was created, and the State undertook the reclamation of this vast territory.
As the State drainage canals were being dug, some of them through lands owned by the Company, other large drainage and navigable canals, with necessary lateral ditches, were constructed by Southern States through its property. Experimental and demonstration farms were established by the Company in the muck, peat, hammocks, and sandy loam soils. Proven successful after many years was the growing of sugar cane, ramie, citrus, and forage crops, and the different varieties of hardy and tender vegetables in South Florida.
The company was instrumental in the eradication of the cattle tick with which South Florida was infested. It constructed the first dipping vats in this section. This was followed by the purchase of a large herd of native cows and crossing them with imported blooded Hereford and Brahma sires and the establishing of the old S S Cattle Ranch with expert cattlemen in charge. Then followed the establishment of a certified dairy at Loxahatchee, with blooded Guernsey milk cows, and the raising of pure blood diary cattle for sale to the local dairies over South Florida.
These early demonstrations soon proved the value of this section, and the additional research and demonstrations by such interests as the Brown Company, the Southern Sugar Company and its successor, the United States Sugar Corporation, and Florida’s Everglades Experimental Station, were responsible for the present large sugar, ramie, farming, and cattle industry in this section.
A story of the Southern States Land & Timber Company would not be complete without reference to the large interests it was responsible for bringing to South Florida, many of whom purchased its lands for development. Among these were: Barron Collier, of New York, who bought 610,000 acres and formed Collier County; R. J. Bolles, the Everglades developer who took 293,000 acres; W. J. (Fingy) Connors, large areas in the Everglades, the builder of the forty mile Connors Highway through this land; the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, 100,000 acres, which built its railroad from Central Florida southeast through this area to Palm Beach and Miami; the Brown Company, Farms at Shewano; and numerous others who have been successful and who bought their lands from the Company.
Finally a brief reference to the Florida land boom of 1925 and the collapse which inevitably followed. Because of the rapid growth of the coast cities, the promising outlook for large scale farming and citrus culture, and because of the State’s famous winter climate, the extravagant boosting by certain columnists and real estate brokers and promoters, a wild, crazy boom was created, resulting in the sale of millions of acres of Florida land at constantly increasing prices until the collapse in less than a year from its beginning. Wild land was subdivided into lots; practically the entire territory, sixty-six miles, between Palm Beach and Miami was subdivided into lots which was to become “one of the largest cities in America”. Even land twenty to twenty-five miles inland was subdivided and sold usually on terms of ten percent down, balance per agreement. The Southern States Land & Timber Company sold 257,000 acres, all in large blocks, for a total consideration of $6,639,769. These sales were mostly on a basis of not less than one-quarter cash, balance one, two, and three years. All but two of these purchasers defaulted, and in the final result the company (took back most of the) acres sold. One of the most amazing of these purchases from the Company by a large syndicate from Philadelphia which, after buying 50,519 acres with down payments of $528,809 and mortgages for balance, abandoned their purchases entirely.
This unfortunate boom naturally was a bad set back for Florida. However, with its many resources the State soon recovered from the collapse of the boom of twenty-five years ago. It is now one of the foremost states in the Union, rapidly developing its still untapped resources with which the State abounds. The next twenty-five years should show an even greater progress, and the Southern States Land & Timber Company in these nearly fifty years in the southern part of the state is proud of the major part it has played in this initial development.
Written by George F. Bensel, 1951