This Month in Clay County history

Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 1/3/18

182 years ago, 1836Florida was a territory of the United States, the area at the prongs of Black Creek was known as Gary’s Ferry and the Second Seminole War was raging. That January, 16 area …

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This Month in Clay County history


182 years ago, 1836

Florida was a territory of the United States, the area at the prongs of Black Creek was known as Gary’s Ferry and the Second Seminole War was raging. That January, 16 area plantations were burned to the ground and the first contingent of 70 U.S. soldiers, arrived to establish Fort Heileman.

The fort served as the Quartermaster’s depot for the entire U.S. Army in Florida, a military post, armory, a medical facility and afforded much need protection for locals.

138 years ago, 1880

While steam boating up the St. Johns River, former President Ulysses S. Grant and his entourage visited briefly in Orange Park and Green Cove Springs. In Orange Park, he and his party enthusiastically praised a diverse display of area seasonal agricultural products.

133 years ago, 1885

New Year’s Day in Green Cove Springs was celebrated with the eruption of impromptu horse races in the dirt streets. Women of the Green Cove Springs Village Improvement Association served refreshments to special guests at their clubhouse near the corner of Palmer and Palmetto Streets.

Wealthy tourists, local businessmen, loggers and farmers rubbed shoulders placing wagers and shouting odds. They provided their own refreshments from pocket flasks, out of sight of the ladies.

130 years ago, 1888

The train christened the New York to Florida Special made her maiden trip from the Big Apple to the Sunshine State in 30 hours. Railroads dominated tourist travel until overtaken by the automobile and the construction of enough decent roads to drive them on sometime in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s.

128 years ago, 1890

In January 1890, what has been called “the biggest and best party ever in Clay County” was held by John McCrea to celebrate the grand opening of his newly built Santa Fe Hotel in Melrose.

The event was planned to last all day and night, beginning with luncheon picnics on the grounds and exterior porches. Guests could choose boating or fishing on Lake Santa Fe, horseback riding and hunting. Night brought formal dining and a masquerade ball.

Big wigs from all over the state and beyond showed up. The reporter from the big Jacksonville paper arrived but didn’t make it much further than the impromptu welcome wagon of a local moonshiner at the train station.

112 years ago, 1906

The paint was barely dry on the Bank of Green Cove Springs one night when it became the target of a dangerous gang of thieves who had racked up an impressive list of bank robberies all over Georgia.

Before the sun was up good, Sheriff James Weeks and Deputy Arch Murrhee trailed the three into the woods north of town and after a brief gunfight returned with the thieves, the $1,800 from local depositors and an additional little over $2,000 which was returned to Georgia victims.

The county paid Duval County to handle it from there and the gang was tried, convicted and dispatched to state prison. There was some concern that justice might not be quick enough to satisfy some locals who briefly lost their hard-earned money.


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