MIDDLEBURG – It’s standard by now for St. Augustine to get all of the old-city-in-America buzz, but far fewer in Clay County know that one of the country’s oldest cities is right in their …
MIDDLEBURG – It’s standard by now for St. Augustine to get all of the old-city-in-America buzz, but far fewer in Clay County know that one of the country’s oldest cities is right in their backyard and it goes by the name it’s had for more than 100 years – Middleburg.
First known as Clark’s Ferry before being named Gary’s Ferry sometime around the 1830s, to becoming Whitesville and finally landing on the name of Middleburg around the 1850s, Middleburg has long been a staple of industry and agriculture in Clay County’s history and it was just as much the simpler way of life that the area holds onto today.
“What I like about Middleburg is that it is so old fashioned,” Cynthia Stone of Middleburg said. “That feeling, that tradition, that old fashioned lifestyle captured in Middleburg today is what it was like back [in the 19th and 20th Century], too.”
Stone has a Doctorate in history and taught at Florida State University for nearly 20 years before becoming Middleburg’s historian. She’s the treasurer of the Middleburg Museum and the tour guide of historical tours through one of the oldest villages in America. According to Stone, Middleburg’s history can be described in two ways: hysterical and important.
In terms of hysterics, Stone said Middleburg’s history shows a pattern of quirkiness and a lifestyle that saw the law as merely a suggestion.
“Some of the craziest things in Florida history happened here,” Stone said. “We have our very own Paul Revere midnight ride. We had moonshining. We had it all.”
During the Civil War, a young boy was playing near a branch of Black Creek when he saw a troupe of Union soldiers approaching. Knowing they hadn’t entered Middleburg to be friends, the boy quickly ran back to the main street of the town where the main church was located. Known today as Middleburg United Methodist Church, this church is the oldest church in the county and the second oldest protestant church in Florida.
The boy told town officials who then told him to ring the church bells. This informed the town to prepare for a skirmish and alarmed the Confederate soldiers in town of the looming threat of incoming Union soldiers.
“That day had shades of Paul Revere,” Stone said. “The Calvary saved the day from Middleburg’s perspective and chased the Yankees out.”
Stone said the Union burned down the hotel in town and a few other businesses. Fortunately, they didn’t lay a torch to the church which is why it still stands today. In fact, this church, which has since seen an expansion to accommodate modern times and modern crowds, still holds a traditional service on Sunday mornings in the original chapel of the church.
“We sing out of hymnals,” Stone, who is a member of the church, said. “We sing the old songs. There’s a piano and an organ. There aren’t any TVs. It’s a very old-fashioned service.”
According to Stone, much of the original church sanctuary standing today is original, including the structure, the pews and even the floor.
Built in 1847, in just 28 years, the church will celebrate its 200th birthday. This church is located on Main Street. While Main Street might simply be the name of the street today, its significance can’t be understated in Middleburg history.
Vishi Garig, the Clay County Archivist, who works as a service of the Clay County Clerk of Court, said before it was Main Street, it was the main road used for Fort Heileman, a fort used during the Second Seminole War era of Florida, which occurred from 1835 to 1852.
This fort, which never saw a battle occur at its site, held supplies for American soldiers fighting Seminole Native Americans during the war and also transported supplies to other areas. Those supplies were transported both on water, by way of Black Creek, and by land, by way of the road known as Main Street today. It was during the Second Seminole War that this street was its busiest, thanks to the constant bustling of people staying at the inn on the street, people attending church, or soldiers traveling to and from Fort Heileman.
Sometime after the war, it was officially named Main Street where it continued to serve as the focal point of Middleburg. Today, it’s the road most often traveled on by those heading to service at the Middleburg Methodist Church.