The banyan trees planted by Thomas Edison on inventor Charles Burgess’s Little Bokeelia Island still flourish today, and you could actually purchase this unique piece of history.
Offering complete solitude and an inspiringly beautiful natural environment, a private island seems like the ideal place for an inventor to focus on his creations. In the case of Charles Burgess, the chemical engineer who patented the dry-cell battery and founded the company that would later become Duracell, the waving palms and spectacular sunsets of his Little Bokeelia Island offered a welcome respite from city life, a peaceful place to relax, contemplate, and entertain friends.
Most notable among his guests was fellow inventor Thomas Edison, who was known to have visited the island in March of 1930. Burgess’ biographer, author Alexander McQueen, noted in his tome the amusing entry that Edison had left in Little Bokeelia’s guestbook, perhaps after long discussions about the mysteries of the universe: “We do not know one millionth % of anything”. No stranger to island life, Edison was known to have built the electrical plant powering Singer Castle, a stunning replica Scottish castle on the St. Lawrence river in upstate New York.
According to the biography, ‘A Romance in Research’, Burgess sought out a piece of sunny Florida due to his wife, whose illness left her unsuited to brutal Wisconsin winters. Having made a tidy fortune from his battery patents, the couple purchased the island in 1942, and set about building a sprawling Spanish-style villa where her constitution would benefit from the year-round warmth, and he could take advantage of the peace and quiet to engross himself in his work.
At the time, Little Bokeelia’s 104-acres were wild and untamed, and much work needed to be done to make it liveable – now, it boasts the 8,000 square foot mansion, along with paradisiacal gardens, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a nature path to explore the abundant nature that still remains. A small museum dedicated to Burgess is located amid the numerous outbuildings, which also include a clubhouse and caretaker’s quarters.
Today, Little Bokeelia is available for sale, with a price tag of US $29.5 million. The property’s listing on the brokerage Vladi Private Islands website paints a wonderful picture of the lifestyle the island offers. ‘Little Bokeelia Island is over 100 acres of romantic splendor offering majestic tropical living. From the Spanish-style estate home featuring a private guest wing to the old Florida village just a short stroll away, you are sure to be overcome with a sense of peace and serenity the moment you step off your boat.’
The company also states that the island has a unique advantage – the potential to divide part of the property into lots for sale, ideal sizes for holiday residences. ‘Your insurance policy for this purchase is the value created by the current owners’ foresight in putting in place the utilities necessary to develop 29 large waterfront lots,’ the listing says. Or, the island’s new owner could simply use it as an incomparable retreat from the world, much like Charles Burgess did in the last century; a place to relax, visit with friends, and focus on their life’s passion.
View the island listing: Vladi Private Islands
Read more about Little Bokeelia’s history: Madison News