GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A celebration 160 years in the making became official last Tuesday when the Board of County Commissioners agreed to proclaim May as History Month in Clay County.
Now for the party.
Residents, young and old, will have the unique opportunity to gather Saturday for the Celebrate Clay County History Festival at the Clay County Historical Triangle at the old courthouse to view artifacts, see demonstrations, explore the old jail and courthouse, hear tales and gain an appreciation how the Black Creek District of Duval County became Clay County in 1858.
The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“I’m hoping people will find it fun and entertaining, not just learning about the history of Clay County, but history in general,” said Vishi Garig, a specialist for the Clay County Archives.
The anchor for the festival is the yearlong curriculum taught to eighth grade students throughout the county, including winning its separation from Duval by the state legislatures on the last day of 1958.
Not only were students given addition Clay County history studies to supplement their history lessons, they were challenged to explore artifacts and documents to help decide which factors had a greater influence on the county’s future, said Kelly Watt, Social Studies Curriculum Specialist for the Clay County School District.
“Starting last year, we came together with historians, teachers and archives specialists to design a local history curriculum,” Watts said. “It’s something that happens outside the history book of where they live, learn and play.”
History lessons for eighth graders start with exploration to the New World and ends with reconstruction. But a lot has happened since, Watt said.
Students poured through documents, surveys and separated what played the greatest role in guiding the county’s future – influence of the military, role of tourism and the benefits of how railroads and steamboats affected the use of land and waterways – like the rich farmlands of Penney Farms, orange grooves at Orange Park and the Black Creek.
“Through this, these kids see Clay County has its own rich history, and that helps them see their roots, where they live and become well-rounded citizens,” Watt said.
But there’s so much more planned, like:
•The dedication of a State Historical Marker at the River Park Inn (formerly Cottage A at the renowned Clarendon Hotel) at 103 S. Magnolia Ave., in Green Cove Springs, to commemorate the contributions by Dr. Joseph Applegate, along with the presentation of the one-man play “Passing the Baton,” written by Elaine Smith of Clamour Theatre and performed by Michael Zelenka;
•Comments from guest speaker Maude Jackson, who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was a regular guest at the segregated Magnolia Lake Park;
•Readings from Maureen A. Jung’s “Embedded in Clay,” a book that explores the people, communities and events that shaped the county;
•Native American history, art and music presented by the All Creations Intertribal;
•A half-sized replica of The Hunley Confederate submarine and a reenactment from the Museum of Southern History;
•Artifacts uncovered by Thom Parham;
•Exhibits from the Middleburg Museum and Historical Society of Orange Park;
•Displays from the timber and turpentine industries by the U.S. Forest Service;
•Author Wanda Duncan reading “Cracker Gothic;”
•Tours of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office’s old jail/county archives building, courthouse, train depot and caboose;
•Paintings from noted Penney Farms artist Elsbeth Geiger;
•Displays at the Vietnam Veterans and Fallen Warriors TAPS Memorial;
•Slim Whitman display at the Clay County Historical Museum;
•Eugene Francis speaking about African American genealogy at the 1890 courthouse;
•Green Cove Springs antique squad car;
•Displays of antique toys from Yesteryear Toys;
•Joseph Lorentzen’s Civil War artifacts;
•Salvation Army’s historical display;
•Demonstration and reenactment of fiber spinning;
•Performances by the Green Cove Springs Junior High choir, Coppergate and Charles E. Bennett elementary choirs and the Orange Park High drumline.
While not officially associated with the Celebrate Clay County History Festival, the Armed Forces Day Celebration also is Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Military Museum of North Florida at Reynolds Park in Green Cove Springs with uniforms, military equipment, combat vehicle tours, vintage plane flyover, classic car and military vehicle show, military antique sale, re-enactors and food vendors.