Clay County Memories 1/23/20

New York business tycoon shaped GCS’s early golden age

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Thaddeus Davids was spending his winters in Green Cove Springs in the mid-1870s long before the practice really caught on. He was among the very first who discovered for themselves the health benefits of avoiding those grueling northern winters. Suffering from periodic episodes of gout, he first spent winters at the second Magnolia Hotel under the treatment of the resident physician.

As his health improved, he became more involved in the community and was elected and even served as mayor of Green Cove Springs. New arrivals and locals sought his opinion and advice.

His sons were more involved in running the ink manufacturing business he had relocated to New York City and built into the largest in the world. The company made thirty-three different printer and steel pen inks and several associated products including sealing wax, mucilage and drying sand.

He was in the group of local movers and shakers who welcomed Episcopal bishop, John Freeman Young on his tour to select sites for the collection of gothic styled churches he sought to scatter along the banks of the St. Johns River. He generously got the ball rolling by donating a charming river side property valued at $500. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church began holding services in March of 1879.

It seemed only natural that in 1877, he built a home on the river in Green Cove Springs. Between the house and the river, a path that wandered from the town to the hotel and community in Magnolia became known as St. Davis’s Path by his local friends.

New arrivals of the mid to late-1800s vigorously sought to immerse themselves in the unique Florida experience. St. David’s Path in Green Cove Springs with its “festoons and draperies of Spanish moss” and arched and embowered lofty magnolias, wild azaleas, Indian pipe stems,” was highly touted by several popular travel writers.

These gentlemen of the pen playing to the Victorian fascination with romance immediately christened the two-mile stroll along the banks of the St. Johns – “The Lovers Walk”. They spread the claim that “with the full moon overhead, darting its silver beams through the forest and playing witchery with the fancies of the young…” romance true or otherwise was sure to follow.”

Davids’ home was the first and for a while the only house along the path. Jutting from every level of the three-story home were gingerbread-draped porches for viewing the river and the collection of tourists and or lovers commencing the stroll. David even provided a small veranda for his servants who traveled south every season and lived on the second floor of the adjacent detached kitchen and carriage house nearby.

In 1883, Davids’ son, George, the ink company’s financial manager, died from consuming an overdose of laudanum. Just days later Thaddeus and the world learned that the company’s debts exceeded its assets. The grieving father liquidated a major portion of his personal assets to satisfy the creditors and with sons David and Edwin working with the company president took charge and again the company prospered until the 1930s.

Not so with Thaddeus. The next year he suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered. In 1887, he sold the house and land in Green Cove Springs. Thaddeus died July 22, 1894.

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