From the time of Seminole Indians to the present, Clay County has had a vast history that you might not know about. Did you know that Green Cove Springs used to be a winter holiday location for folks from the north or that Middleburg was the county seat until 1874?
Fleming Island is located between the towns of Orange Park to the north and Green Cove Springs to the south. Doctors Lake is to the west and the St. Johns River is to the east, with each meeting in the north. To the south is Black Creek.
Did you know that Fleming Island had a previous name? Or that Eugenia Price, a famous author, wrote about one of its founding members?
Green Cove Springs
Green Cove Springs was first known as White Sulphur Springs, according to Parade of Memories A History of Clay County, Florida (page 66). It officially became Green Cove Springs on July 20, 1866. It became the county seat in 1874. The population for the county was around 2098 in 1870 and by 1880 had grown to 2,838. (http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/files/Hist_Census_Counties_2.pdf)
Keystone Heights was incorporated in 1925. According to Mr. Blakey's Parade of Memories A History of Clay County, Florida, "… the town was incorporated and named Keystone Heights after the "Keystone State" of Pennsylvania and the "Heights" of the location (the elevation of the area is about 150 feet above sea level)." "In 1924 eight trains traveled daily through Lake Geneva, Keystone Heights, and Brooklyn on the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad. Four of these were passenger trains and ran from Valdosta, Georgia, to Palatka (the four freight trains also made the same run)." Also in 1924, the post office had been relocated from Brooklyn to Keystone Heights, there were numerous houses being built, and the Keystone Inn opened on January 1, 1924. During the 1920's, Keystone Heights had a public beach, a fire department, and school houses. Arch Blakey, Parade of Memories A History of Clay County, Florida, pages 218-221
Middleburg is in between the forks of Black Creek. It has had several names throughout its history – Clark's Ferry (1820's-1833), Gary's (also known as Garey's) Ferry (1833-1850), Middleburgh (1851-1893), and finally Middleburg on September 8, 1893. Clark's Ferry was named for Asa Clark who ran the ferry from the 1820's until 1828. During the period between 1828 and 1833, the ferry was run by John M. Hanson, but the community was still known as Clark's Ferry. Gary's Ferry was named for Samuel Y. Gary and he ran the business from 1833 until 1851. On May 1, 1851, the name was changed to Middleburgh. Finally, on September 8, 1893, the name became Middleburg. When Clay County was created in 1858, Middleburg became the temporary county seat. It remained so until 1874 when the county seat was moved to Green Cove Springs. (Arch Blakey, Parade of Memories : A History of Clay County, Florida, pages 34, 47-57).
Orange Park's history dates back to the late 1700's after William and Rebecca Pengree received a land grant from the Spanish Governor. They named their plantation, "Laurel Grove," which became Orange Park in 1879. After William died, "Rebecca sold most of the property to Zephaniah Kingsley on November 26, 1803, for $5,300.00," according to Arch Blakey's Parade of Memories A History of Clay County, Florida (1976 edition, page 9). Kingsley sustained substantial damages to his plantation during the First Seminole War and sold the plantation and the land around Doctors Lake to John Houston McIntosh in 1817. Kingsley and his family moved to Fort George Island, where they had a thriving plantation and part of it still survives today, thanks to the National Parks Service.
Did you know that J. C. Penney, the founder of Penney's department store, also founded a community in Clay County? Did you also know that one of the cast members from the movie "The Wizard of Oz", Meinhardt Raabe, lived at Penney Farms?
According to Arch Fredric Blakey's Parade of Memories A History of Clay County, Florida, Penney Farms started out as two projects – a "scientifically-managed agricultural community and a home for retired ministers." (page 209) The farming experiment began in 1925 and was successful until the beginning of the Depression. "By 1932, Penney was bankrupt and began negotiations to dispose of the project. On December 22, 1932, Paul E. Reinhold, president of Foremost Dairies, took over the operation and the colonization attempt ceased." (page 212)