Early Decembers in Clay County history

By Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 11/28/18

In December of the early 1830s, naturalist John James Audubon began his travels in Florida by visiting with live oak cutters recently arrived on the west bank of the St. Johns River. They sat around …

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Early Decembers in Clay County history

Posted

In December of the early 1830s, naturalist John James Audubon began his travels in Florida by visiting with live oak cutters recently arrived on the west bank of the St. Johns River. They sat around a campfire in the area of a vigorous natural spring in what is now known as Green Cove Springs.

In December of 1885, locals were celebrating the new bridge over Governor’s Creek between Green Cove Springs and Magnolia. It was expensive at $999 but horses, wagons and men had been falling through it on a regular basis and that was becoming costly too.

December 1931 saw the return of dog racing to Orange Park when the state legislature legalized gambling and the Clay County Kennel Club opened for business. The first attempt, the Seminole Kennel Club, ended abruptly the night it began when Sheriff Elam Weeks arrested the employees, herded the crowd out in the parking lot and padlocked the doors.

On December 2, 1941, Orange Park’s air raid siren arrived at the train station. That night at the commission meeting it was voted to reimburse the stationmaster, Mr. Johns $1.16 for personally paying the freight. Of course, that started a fuss because money was so tight that many had argued against buying the siren in the first place.

All that changed when, five days later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Henry Howard had more help than he needed that night when he mounted the siren on a pole in front of town hall at the southeast corner of Reed Street and Kingsley Avenue.

In December of 1951, Boy Scout leaders found themselves leading a never-ending caravan of vehicles loaded down with rootless conifer trees from the railroad siding off Beaver Street in Jacksonville back to town for Orange Park’s first Christmas Tree Sale.

Some say it was a service project that probably saved lives because of all the newcomers in town who might try to go out in the nearby woods, cut a tree and end up catching a load of buckshot. Making moonshine was still a popular side business in certain parts of the county.

December 1999 saw the end of a gracious Penney Farms landmark for over 60 years when the Colonial Inn was burned to the ground as a training exercise for Clay County firefighters.

On a December in the 1950s, there began what became an annual event for many years when Moosehaven created a giant Christmas tree by draping strings of lights from its flagpole on Park Avenue. The first night they turned them on it not only stopped traffic it attracted traffic. Little two-lane U.S. Highway 17 was, in a matter of minutes, jammed with vehicles and a few horse wagons.

In those days, when it got good dark it was really dark along U.S 17. Little grocery stores closed up, service stations and motels just had lights mostly on the buildings and they closed early. Much of the land along the road was woods or residences. The town had just installed the stop and go light at U.S. 17 and Kingsley. They turned it to blink at night.

After the first night of frantic but congenial chaos it turned into a bit of a Christmas miracle. Orange Park was growing so rapidly that folks didn’t know each other and the tree changed everything. People would come early, sometimes bringing a picnic supper, to be there when the tree was turned on. The volunteer firemen wrangled the traffic, new friends were made and a good time was had by all.

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