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General Meetings are free and open to the public.

As always, the Clay County Historical Society welcomes visitors and new members. The Museum is open every Sunday from 2 until 5 p.m. and for tours of larger groups upon request.

Upcoming Events

Clay County Historical Society News

June 24th 2024

What was it like on the St. Johns River in 1774?

At the Clay County Historical Society meeting on June 24, 2024, Dean Campbell, representing the Bartram Trail Society of Florida, accompanied Mike Adams, a conservation ecologist, researcher, educator, and author.

CCHS Mike Adams as Billy BartramAttendees experienced time travel back to 1774 with Mr. Adams portraying William “Billy” Bartram.

In 1772, Dr. John Fothergill of London commissioned William “Billy” Bartram to explore the Florida territories. Since Billy and his father, John, had previously been to Flor­ ida in 1766, the territory was not completely foreign to Billy. Accompanied by about 80 others he started out in Philadelphia in 1773, exploring the Appalachians on horseback and recording the plants and wildlife including bison. As he approached the Florida territory, a boat with oars and sail was built for him. A guide, Jobe Wiggins, was engaged for the river adventure.

The audience was enthralled with Bartram’s exploits and vivid description of his en­ counters with (delicious) rattlesnakes, alligators (Chinese dragons) and Indians who called him Flower Hunter. He described villages along the river such as those around Palatka where there were several hundred acres in cultivation with corn and squash. There were long leaf pine trees and live oak hammocks with wild grape vines, some 12 inches in diam­ eter, so thick that rain and sunlight could not penetrate. His handy Bartram Bob, a feather and garter, was useful to catch fish such as the delicious yellow brim served with rice and orange juice on the banks of Lake George. One night a sneaky red wolf stole all the fish but meant Bartram no harm.

Bartram explored 8 sites in Clay County that will become the Bartram Trail in Clay County with the goal of forming a National Recreation Trail. In participation with other counties in northeast Florida and other states such as Georgia and Alabama, there will be a national corridor, similar to the Lewis and Clark Corridor.

People with local knowledge of the sites in Clay County where Bartram traveled are en­ couraged to become engaged to locate places he wrote about, especially the prongs of Black Creek and the trails of Jennings Forest where he hiked.

The kick off for Clay County’s efforts to develop a Bartram Trail here is planned for July at Camp Chowenwah. Check the Bartram Trail Society webpage https://bartramtrailsociety.corn/clay-county/ for further information.

April 22nd 2024

Glass Insulators

Paul Deriso delighted those at the General Meeting of the Clay County Historical Society with a collection of beautiful glass insulators from his personal collection. Mr. Deriso’s father was a telegrapher from the time he learned Morse code at the age of 15, a skill that served him well in WWI, WWII and thereafter with the Railroad and at Grand Central Station. Mr. Deriso himself is proficient in Morse Code and fondly told of a message he had once decoded and delivered to his superiors in the military service where he met Elvis Presley.

On April 22, 2024, Paul Deriso delighted those at the General Meeting
On April 22, 2024, Paul Deriso delighted those at the General Meeting

 Glass insulators emerged in the 1840s with the invention of the telegraph by Samual F. B. Morse. On May 24, 1844, Morse dispatched the first telegraphic message “What Hath God Wrought?” over an experimental line from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.

” .– …. .- – / …. .- – …. / –. — -.. / .– .-. — ..- –. …. – ..–.. “

To prevent telegraph wires from falling down on wood and shorting out, especially in wet weather glass companies made insulators for the telegraph lines out of surplus material not suitable for tableware.  Most insulators were attached to the horizontal cross arm on a pole by being screwed onto threaded wooden pegs.  Then a tie wire attached to the insulator connected it to the communication wire. Some earlier insulators, however, were threadless and they are considered rare and more valuable as were the unusually beautiful ones displayed at the meeting.

Several of people at the meeting reported that they knew Morse Code and that it was needed in certain instances, even with today’s electronic communication.  Interestingly, in 1912, it was telegraph operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride who stayed at their post and were able to contact the Carpathia to help rescue those on the Titanic.

Barbara Craig was the winner of the door prize, a beautiful 1892 patterned glass insulator donated by Mr. Deriso.

For more information call (904)284-9644, e-mail, or visit

March 1st

Something New to Do in Clay County


Orange Park History Tours will begin on March 28th.  Please call (239)340-1292 or e-mail with questions.

CCHS Orange Park Tour

January 22nd

New Officers for 2024

Steve Griffith will be the new president of the Clay County Historical Society for the year 2024, following installation ceremonies at the January 22 meeting.  Other officers are John Bowles, vice president, Monica Padgett, Secretary and Pat Sickles Garlinghouse, Treasurer. Dr. Larry Richardson officiated and charged the officers with his/her duties.  Outgoing president Gerard Casale presented a summary of the past year’s accomplishments followed by an interesting program.

CCHS Swearing in 2024

Guest Speakers

Dr. Larry Richardson and Honorable John Bowles were the presenters on the subject, Two Iconic Men, One Community, Shared Experiences in Green Cove Springs.

Both discussed the historical framework for Clay County, especially Green Cove Springs. Richardson graduated from Dunbar High School in 1965, and Bowles graduated from Clay High in 1963. Both noted that though their lives were different and policies were in place that kept them apart (segregation), they still sometimes enjoyed each other’s company, especially in sports, and went fishing, crabbing, and shrimping together. They lamented that they were not responsible for decisions made. This is what made Green Cove Springs distinct from other places in the South. They agreed that when Green Cove Springs fell on “bad times,” people still got along and there were very few issues at the time.

Mr. Bowles asked the crowd about the number of dealerships that existed in the 1960s, where they could go for gasoline, recalled taxis, and the Greyhound bus station. In the end, Mr. Bowles subsequently became a local leader holding many top government positions, and supported various community organizations, including the Clay County Historical Society. Dr. Richardson noted that he is a descendant of Samuel M. Patterson, who was among seven African American Green Cove Springs Council members from 1874 to 1893. He said his three degrees served him well since he has traveled to over 35 countries, received many awards, and was the sole owner of a Mental Health Counseling practice. Both speakers are semi-retired.

The February Meeting of the Clay County Historical Society will be held on February 26, 2024 in the Historical Courthouse, 915 Walnut Street, Green Cove Springs, FL 32043. The Guest Speaker, Peter Swanson, will discuss the “Clay County Dominican Connection”. The meeting is free and open to the public.

For more information call (904)284-9644, e-mail, or visit

October 23rd


On Thursday, October 23, 2023, John Nelson shared his excellent and extensive research about the evolution of the historic Magnolia Springs Hotel with the Clay County Historical Society. The timeline began as far back as 1767 with a land grant. Having survived changes between Spanish and British allegiance, 3 fires, yellow fever, the Great Freeze of 1835, and the Seminole War, the first hotel promoting health and remedy for Tuberculosis was built in 1854.

By 1860 the Magnolia census showed 190 people including 39 families. Thanks to the fact that Dr. Nathan Benedict, a Union sympathizer, was the property owner, the buildings were spared by the Union forces. In 1868, after the Civil War, the Freed- men’s Bureau to help displaced African American families and children, was established by the Federal Government. The American Missionary Association established a school on the property with 50 black students. Unfortunately, there was insufficient federal funding and the effort was short-lived. 

In 1869 another hotel was built on the property and in 1881 Fay and Cruft built the hotel most frequently pictured: the grand Magnolia Springs Hotel, with many amusements such as alligator hunting and golf. The architecture was used in other grand hotels built later as tourism expanded in Florida. The painter William Morris Hunt and inventor Thomas Edison were well-known guests at Magnolia Springs.

As tourism faded with the development of Flagler’s railroad taking people to warmer locations in Florida, the Florida Military Academy relocated from the St. Elmo Hotel in Green Cove Springs to Magnolia Springs in 1919. After the devastating Magnolia Springs fire in 1923, it was not until 1951 that the property was redeveloped for NAS officer family housing. In 1960 that housing was converted to public housing; recognized it today as St. Johns Landing.

In attendance was Cindy Cheatwood, president of the Orange Park Historical Society who will be making a presentation about the Yerkes Lab/monkey farm in Orange Park on November 6th at 5:30 pm at the Orange Park Library.

For more information visit or e-mail

CCHS John Nelson - picture
CCHS John Nelson - Lecture
CCHS John Nelson Audience

September 25th

CCHS Assistant Chief ClarkOn September 25, 2023, the Clay County Historical Society hosted guest speaker, Assistant Chief Jeremy Clark from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.  Assistant Chief Clark, an officer with CCSO for 25 years, was able to recount the many changes in law enforcement across the decades.  He openly shared his experience as a Clay County officer and administrator focused on the three priorities of growth, partnerships, and transparency.  Transitioning from the era of flip phones, paper maps, and scratch pads to technology like traffic cameras, license plate readers, and safe watch tips, information is now integrated at a monitored crime center.

School Board Police, local city police, and EMS partner with the CCSO under well-defined protocols.  Additionally, CCSO has a co-responder program with Clay Behavioral Health as police are often the first responders to a mental health crisis where long-term help versus incarceration is needed. Today the CCSO has a clear focus on working with other stakeholders and finding solutions that are in the best interest of all county residents.

Upcoming events include “Tales from the Clink” in the Historic Triangle forum on Friday, October 13 from  5 – 7 PM when the museum will be open for visitors; regular Sunday Museum hours from 2 – 5 PM and the October 23 Monthly Meeting at 7 PM in the Historic Courthouse when John Nelson, Guest Speaker, will discuss the history of the Magnolia Springs Hotel.

For more information visit or e-mail

August 28th

Barbara and RyanOn August 28, 2023, the Clay County Historical Society welcomed Ryan Worthington & Barbara Bradley “Friends of Gold Head State Park”.  Barbara and Ryan enthusiastically discussed the History of Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park and presented little known facts about this favorite “get away”.

It is one of the original Florida State Parks featuring several lakes, a fourth magnitude spring that feeds Little Lake Johnson, and a sandhill community now under long leaf pine restoration. Mike Roess (1880 – 1952), a lumber man, donated the park land and it was named after him when he died but only theories persist about how it came to be called “Gold Head”.

From 1933 – 1942 a government relief program after the Great Depression known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided jobs for young men under the supervision of skilled craftsmen and limestone was brought in from a quarry in High Springs. In addition to 16 total cabins, an original building houses the Ranger’s office.

Found on the property, was a grist mill, a cotton gin and narrow-gauge rail line associated with the line connecting Green Cove Springs to Melrose from the 1880’s. A favorite place is the ravine overlook and pavilion 32 made of thick cypress planking built by the CCC.

Interestingly, across SR 21 on the side of Camp Blanding, another park, Magnolia Lake State Park, was built in the 1950’s for African Americans but it was returned to Camp Blanding in the 1970’s.  A historical marker now designates that park.

A rustic and beautiful park, Gold Head State Park, has, for many years struggled to maintain water levels in her recreational lakes but one of them is a deep sink hole estimated to have been created 23,000 years ago.

Next month the Clay County Historical Society will meet at 7 PM  on September 25 in the 1889 Historical Couth House, 915 Walnut Street, Green Cove Springs. Guest speaker, Sheriff Michelle Cook will dive into how law enforcement in Clay County has changed in resources and priorities.  Come and bring a friend.  There is no charge and the meeting is open to the public.  For more information email or visit

July 24th

Cindy Cheatwood

On July 24, Cindy Cheatwood, local author and historian, was guest speaker at the Clay County Historical Society.  Ms. Cheatwood deftly traced a timeline beginning in 1858 when the county was named.   Many of the significant events, people and places were highlighted including those related to the Seminole War and the Civil War, the Yerkes Primate Lab, the Normal School, the ferries of Middleburg, Camp Chowenwaw, Camp Blanding, Lee Field, Cecil Field, Bellamy Road, Hibernia and the hotels from the tourist era. Attendees learned that Hibernia is Latin for island, that Keystone was originally Brooklyn and that harvesting indigo can be quite hazardous to one’s health!

The next meeting of the Clay County Historical Society on August 28 at 7 PM will be held in the historic courthouse in the Historic Triangle, 915 Walnut Street, Green Cove Springs, FL 32043.  Guest speakers will be Ryan Worthington and Barbara Bradley who will discuss the little-known history of Gold Head State Park.  The meeting is open to the public at no charge. For more information please email or call (904)284-9644.

Saturday June 3rd

CCHS June update
Turpentine Tools
Cash Registe
Early Toasters

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REGULAR HOURS: Open 2 – 5 PM Sundays except for Holidays

Please remember that we are staffed by volunteers.

In addition to regular hours please call to schedule tours.

Phone (904) 284-9644

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Mail To: Clay County Historical Society

915 Walnut Street

Green Cove Springs, Florida 32043

Location: Clay County Historical Society

915 Walnut Street

(in the Historic Courthouse Annex)

Green Cove Springs, Florida 32043


The Clay County Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Educational Organization

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