News and Events
Stay up to date on local Clay County Historical Society News and Events, and Meetings.
General Meetings are free and open to the public.
The Clay County Historical Society will not formally meet again until January 22nd.
There will be an all-day strategic planning session on November 11th and a Christmas party for the members on December 9th.
Several of the members, coordinated by CCHS member, Kathy Kass, are actively engaged in cleaning up some of Clay County’s abandoned cemeteries and she may be contacted by those interested in helping.
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.
Clay County Historical Society News
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.
On 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.
On 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.claycountyhistoricalsociety.com
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 email@example.com or call (904)284-9644.
Saturday June 3rd
Get in Touch
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
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