2008-09-05 / Travel

Pineville, A Historic Refuge

Part 74: The Legacy of Francis Beidler
By Warner M. Montgomery Warner@TheColumbiaStar.com

Francis Beidler Forest is the world's largest virgin cypress- tupelo swamp forest. Francis Beidler Forest is the world's largest virgin cypress- tupelo swamp forest. After B.F. Ferguson died in 1905, Francis Beidler I bought his partner's interest in Santee River Cypress Lumber Company. When he began to go blind, Beidler turned over operations to M.B. Cross and loaned the company $621,000 to keep the saws turning, but in 1914, he closed it down.

Beidler sold the machinery for scrap and the remaining lumber to Brooklyn (NY) Cooperage Company for $5 million. When he died in 1924 he owned 8,000 shares of stock in the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company worth $1,632,000, and the company owed him an additional $621,000. His wife and two children owned 7,000 shares worth $1,428,000.

At Beidler's bequest, the majority of his wealth was put in the Francis Beidler Foundation at his death. His son, Francis Beidler II, executor of the trust, wisely did not invest any money in the stock market. After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, he made another wise decision not to sell the swampland in South Carolina and to suspend lumbering on the property.

Photo by Ron Wright Thanks to the Beidler family, animals like this feral hog survive in the Congaree National Park and the Francis Beidler Forest. Photo by Ron Wright Thanks to the Beidler family, animals like this feral hog survive in the Congaree National Park and the Francis Beidler Forest. The South Carolina Tax Commission levied an inheritance tax on Beidler's estate, and the Beidler executors took the Tax Commission to court. The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the ruling, and the executors appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court overruled South Carolina in 1930 saying the estate could not be taxed a second time since Illinois, Beidler's home state, had already levied the tax.

In 1940, some of the Beidler property was taken by Santee- Cooper and inundated by Lake Marion. The remaining property was turned over to Mother Nature.

In the late 1960s, the Beidler forester, Bob Knoth, met with Peter Manigault,

publisher of the Charleston

Post and Courier newspaper and a member of the Audubon Society Board of Trustees. They agreed that 12,500 acres in Four Holes Swamp would be an ideal conservation site. An agreement was reached with the Beidler family.

The Carolinas' Nature Photographers Association sponsors the annual Audubon Nature Photography Contest at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center. The Carolinas' Nature Photographers Association sponsors the annual Audubon Nature Photography Contest at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center. The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society combined their resources to purchase the property. The Francis Beidler Forest, a registered National Natural Landmark, was born.

Francis Beidler Forest now covers 15,000 acres and is the world's largest virgin cypress- tupelo swamp forest. Most of the huge bald cypresses are at least 1,000 years old. The oldest known tree is 1,500 years old.

Norman Brunswig, executive director of Audubon South Carolina and manager of Francis Beidler Forest, has worked with the Beidler family over the years. Every year, the Francis Beidler Foundation makes a significant donation to the forest and was very involved in construction of the visitor's center.

Creation of the Congaree National Park followed a similar path. Beidler owned over 22,000 acres along the Congaree River. When logging ceased at Ferguson in 1914, the swampland received very light management from the Beidler family.

The Congaree National Park, created in 2003, was part of the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company property owned by B.F. Ferguson and Francis Beidler I. The Congaree National Park, created in 2003, was part of the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company property owned by B.F. Ferguson and Francis Beidler I. In 1969, conservationists led by Harry Hampton, Jim Welch, Jim Elder, Friends of Congaree Swamp, and the Sierra Club launched a grass roots campaign to save this old growth forest. The Beidler family, torn between their rightful ownership of the land and their feelings for conservation, gave in to the government's determination to buy it. As a result, the US Congress created Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976 following leadership by Sen. Fritz Hollings and Congressman Floyd Spence.

The monument became an International Biosphere Reserve in 1983. Over two- thirds of the park was designated a wilderness area in 1988, and it became an Important Bird Area in 2001.

The Beidler family contributed to the park's enlargement in recent years including the disposition of the Bates Fork tract. Congaree Swamp became a national park in 2003 following a bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Jim Clyburn.

The descendants of Francis Beidler I have continued to take an active role in conservation in the Palmetto State. Donations from the Francis Beidler Foundation have been granted to many causes including historic preservation, educational outreach, wildlife management, timberland management, timberland research, and land conservation.

Francis Beidler IV says, "The family has benefitted in its interest in conservation in South Carolina through its relationships not only with Norman Brunswig, but also chairman emeritus at DNR Marion Burnside, as well as numerous forward- thinking citizens and politicians who've contributed to land conservation in the state."

Among the direct descendants of Francis Beidler I living in SC are Didi Desfrancs, Francis Beidler I's grandchild; Edouard Desfrancs, a great grandchild; and Henri and Alexandra Desfrancs, great- great grandchildren.

(Much of this informa tion

was contributed b y

Frank Beidler IV.)

(Next week:

Pineville Today)

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