The land that now comprises the Coffeen Nature Preserve was part of a very large tract of land purchased by John & Dorothy Coffeen and Robert & Mary Bushnell in the early 1940’s. Robert Bushnell, former Attorney General for State of Massachusetts, was Dorothy’s brother. Dorothy Coffeen was the descendent of David Bushnell, inventor of the submarine, and Horace Bushnell, a famous theologian. You can read more about the Coffeen side of the family in Ed Coffeen’s reflections.
During World War II most of the Preserve was taken over by the Army Air Force to test an American version of the German V1 rocket. By 1945 the land had undergone massive devastation and required extensive undertaking to clear and repair the land. Topsail Bluff, once the highest point between Pensacola and Panama City had been bulldozed to remove the tree growth and that resulted in loss of eight feet in height from sand erosion.
A new archaeological find was discovered as a result of this erosion; the coals of 3 fires laid out in a triangular formation with Indian artifacts. Analysis dated the site to around 600 – 700 years BCE.
The Four Mile Village
After the Coffeens got the land back from the Army at the end of the war they began selling lots to people seeking beach homes. They called the development Four Mile Village. During their life they sold about 50 lots-100 acres, all located on the south side of the property. This part of the property is still called Four Mile Village and is not part of the Preserve.
In her later years, Dorothy decided to keep the unsold land as a nature preserve. Her views about what the Preserve should be like are well reflected in something she wrote in 1968.
In her will, Dorothy Coffeen gave the property to the Sierra Club Foundation along with an endowment to support the Preserve. The Sierra Club Foundation then created the Coffeen Nature Preserve and maintained it from 1976 to 2004. At that time the Foundation determined that it would be best if it divested itself of the Preserve. In her will, Dorothy provided that if the Sierra Club Foundation ever chose to relinquish ownership the Preserve should go to the Audubon Society, but it declined the invitation to take the property. Thus, the Foundation and the Four Mile Village homeowners agreed to form the Coffeen Land Trust, an independent charitable corporation. The property along with the endowment was transferred to the Coffeen Land Trust in 2004. The Coffeen Land Trust is managed by a nine-member Board of Directors and is maintained by caretakers Susan and Bruce Paladini.
In the ABOUT Section of this web page you can see Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of the Coffeen Land Trust, as well as the Declarations and Covenants entered into by the Sierra Club Foundation and the Coffeen Land Trust at the time the Foundation deeded the property to the Land Trust.
The Coffeen Land Trust’s purpose and goals remain the same as those of Dorothy Coffeen and the Sierra Club foundation. It wishes to maintain the Preserve as a place of quiet refuge, suffering neither man’s indifference nor pursuit.