Early Clay settlers greeted by massive stands of 6,000-year-old bald cypresses


In the mid-1800s, massive stands of old growth bald cypress trees, also known as Florida’s Giant – were common along Black Creek and her dense network of area creeks and swamps. These early Goliaths were more than 6,000 years old.

They stretched over 100 feet into the air with diameters of twenty feet and more. Most of the branches clustered at the top resembling a toupee perched on a hairless head. “Bald” would seem to be an appropriate distinction.

A bulging, bell-bottom shape at the base and an extensive root system provided support. Knobby “knees” extending upward from the roots also allowed the absorption of oxygen.

Early harvesting of all types of timber depended on ready access to creeks or the river to float the trees out of the deep woods and on to large mills in Green Cove Springs and Palatka.

Cutting cypress in the days before heavy machinery was different from dropping other primary growth trees. The sheer size and weight of these giants required not only muscle and skill but also planning and patience coupled with specific knowledge.

Several months before the tree was put on the ground, an ax was used to chop a groove through the outer cambium layer all around the tree. Finding a place to stand on the steeply sloping base and still swing an ax without falling into water to become moccasin bait was a challenge.

This maneuver was critical because it interrupted the upward intake of water through the outer cambium layer and caused the tree to slowly dry reducing its weight and increasing buoyancy sufficiently to allow it to float. If not executed correctly the logs promptly sank and could sink an entire raft of logs to the bottom. The bottom of Black Creek is still peppered with “sinkers”.

Once the tree was on the ground it was cut into maneuverable lengths of 16 to 32 feet.

Harvesting of these majestic trees continued unabated for decades and by the early 1900s the accessible supply was dwindling. In the 1920s boon, designers and architects discovered “pecky cypress” previously considered only fit for fencing, stakes or spacers to dry lumber.

This wood came from young trees barely a hundred years old and not yet secreting sufficient insect resistant oils. Suddenly trees considered unfit for sale became a rare and sought commodity and loggers were back in the woods hunting cypress.

In the depression of the thirties when times were really hard, men took up fishing for cypress sinkers in Black Creek. With the supply nearly exhausted but demand inflated the grueling work of recovering the logs was cost effective.

The truly ancient giants in Clay County are gone. Their younger and smaller descendants stand - reminders of the very distant past and the days when a single species of tree could provide a way for hungry families to survive.

June 2

Austin S. Hare, 24, Orange Park, possession-controlled substance without prescription

Salena K. Fox, 39, Orange Park, battery on a person 65 or older, resist/obstruct/oppose police officer

Bjorn D. Soyland, 41, Keystone Heights, DUI, DWLSR-third offense

Jody-Ann M. Miller, 32, Green Cove Springs, VOP-community control

Kathy C. Phinizy, 30, Middleburg, simple domestic battery

James M. Ellis, 51, Orange Park, simple battery, simple domestic battery

June 1

Edward E. Marzigliano, 28, Orange Park, domestic battery

Armani K. Channelle, 25, Orange Park, felony shoplifting

Alex L. Risley, 29, Orange Park, vandalism, resist/obstruct/oppose posing office, possession-burglary tools, two counts giving false name/ID

Bennie L. Phelps, 76, Fleming Island, battery on person 65 or older

Curtis J. Furman, 52, Middleburg, possession-marijuana less than 20g, possession/use drug equipment, possession-cocaine, DWLSR

Melissa M. Burgos, 30, Orange Park, possession-heroin more than 10g, possession-methamphetamine, possession/use drug equipment, FTA-possession-controlled substance

Joseph C. Sweet, 34, Green Cove Springs, operating vehicle without license

Devin T. Hawkins, 22, Orange Park, possession-marijuana less than 20g

Douglas W. Swagerty, 26, Middleburg, three counts torture to animal with intent to inflict intense pain

Tchanggy K. Janvier, 22, Green Cove Springs, possession-marijuana more than 20g, possession/use drug equipment

Stephanie L. Greer, 46, Middleburg, DWLSR

Autumn J. Strang, 41, Green Cove Springs, simple battery

Man driving car with mobile home tag busted for DUI

MIDDLEBURG – A man was stopped while driving with a license tag from a mobile home, and he wound up going to jail for driving while intoxicated and endangering a child.

John Amick McBane, 54, of Middleburg was stopped on County Road 218 Wednesday, May 29, after a routine check of his tag was supposed to be on a mobile home and didn’t match his car. Deputies also learned the car hadn’t been registered since 2009 and McBane’s license had been suspended three times since 2005.

McBane’s blood alcohol level was measured at .135 and .137. The legal limit is .08.

Since a girl was riding in his car, he also was charged with endangering the child.

Disruptive man tased three times while wrestling with officers

ORANGE PARK – An unruly man had to be tased three times while he fought with two Clay County Sheriff Deputies on Thursday, May 30.

Deputies were called to investigate a suspicious person on Uranus Lane. They found Parrish William Samford, 25, of Orange Park, standing in the middle of the road. He refused to identify himself and tried to walk away when a second deputy arrived. Samford kicked one of the officers and wrestled with both deputies before he was tased three times, according to the arrest report.

Samford was charged with resisting, obstructing and opposing a police officer.

Jacksonville man nabbed after bragging about stealing handgun

ORANGE PARK – A man made it easier on Clay County Sheriff deputies by telling friends he stole a gun from a car parked May 12 at the Orange Park Mall.

Sean Lee Davis, 41, of Jacksonville, was arrested for armed burglary and possession of a loaded firearm by a convicted felon after deputies received a tip that Davis was bragging about the gun.

According to the arrest warrant, Davis broke into a car at the AMC Theatres and reportedly stole a .45 caliber handgun.

Davis was arrested on Thursday, May 30. His bond was set at $100,006.

Inmate caught with marijuana in Clay County Jail

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A Jacksonville man’s problems worsened when he was caught with marijuana inside the Clay County Jail.

Allen Tarrell DeWayne Brooks, 41, already was in jail after being arrested on May 28 for grand theft. A day later, a correction’s officer noticed Brooks trying to hide a something in his mouth. He eventually spit out a cellophane wrapper that contained what later was tested to be marijuana.

Deputies then added an additional charge – introduction of contraband into the Clay County Jail.

Woman jailed for taking cash, exploiting unstable victim

ORANGE PARK – Tanya Lynn Garman, 49, recently was arrested for cashing checks and using credit cards from a victim who eventually was placed into an assisted living home.

The Orange Park woman is accused to writing checks from Jan. 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019, totaling $64,750 to herself from the victim’s account and not paying the victim back. She’s also charged with using his credit card without paying the bill.

She was charged with grand theft and exploitation and ordered to not have any contact with the victim.

Her bond was set at $50,003.

Fleming Island’s Philips receives doctoral degree at North Georgia

DAHLONEGA, Ga. – Rachel Philips earned her doctoral degree in physical therapy recently at the University of North Georgia.

The Fleming Island High graduate was one of nearly 1,300 newly-minted North Georgia graduates walked in spring commencement ceremonies at the Convocation Center. In total, UNG granted 1,898 degrees and certificates to 1,850 graduates for the spring 2019 semester.

Two local high school graduates on dean’s list at Mount St. Mary’s

EMMITSBURG, Md. – Mount St. Mary's University was pleased to announce 665 students earned dean's list honors for the Spring 2019 semester. They including: Kielce Gussie of Middleburg Megan Spencer of Orange Park.

Mount St. Mary's University is a private, liberal arts, Catholic university in the Catoctin Mountains. The university offers more than 70 majors, minors, concentrations and special programs for traditional undergraduate students, more than 20 adult undergraduate and graduate level programs, and 22 NCAA Division I athletic teams.

Orange Park, FL., (May 29, 2019) – Each year more than 214,000 people lose their lives to trauma related injuries, coming in at the second leading cause of death in ages 46 and under. That’s 1 person every 3 minutes. Today, May 29th at 2pm Orange Park Medical Center will be hosting an event to celebrate those that have beat the odds and survived traumatic injuries.

Orange Park Medical Center trauma patients will be coming back to the hospital to celebrate each other and those that helped them survive and recover from their traumatic injuries. The hospital’s annual event includes survivor speakers, the dedication of a new rose bush and bench by Customs and Border Control Agent and trauma survivor Drew Stokes, the opportunity for staff, survivors and their families to paint personal messages on rocks that will be placed around the new bush and bench and music played by trauma survivor Isaias Chalvisant.

Orange Park Medical Center has treated over 5,000 patients with traumatic injuries, which would not have been possible without local fire and rescue teams.

The Trauma Survivor’s Celebration will be located at Orange Park Medical Center 2001 Kingsley Avenue in the main lobby. The event is free admission and open to the public.

John Taylor

Firefighter with CCFR. Was run over by a vehicle driven by other first responders at a bar. He will be speaking.

Gilberto Lopez

This is Motorcycle collision resulting in a leg amputation. Previous story https://www.claytodayonline.com/stories/motorcyclist-loses-a-leg-not-his-hope,16072. He will be speaking.

Evelyn Silva

Autistic 24 year old women, suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car crash. Her mother will be speaking.

Drew Stokes

Federal agent that was gunned down at Publix. He will be assisting with our dedication of a rose bush. Previous story https://www.claytodayonline.com/stories/federal-agent-shares-story-to-inspire-students,10351.

Isaias Chalvisant

Head injury from a car crash. He will be attending and playing the guitar.

For Clay Today

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Despite pleading guilty to first-degree murder last week, the state still will seek the death penalty for sexual predator Donald Hugh Davidson Jr., state attorney Melissa Nelson said.

Davidson admitted to entering Roseann Welch’s Middleburg home on Dec. 1, 2014, and strangling and stabbing her to death. He also said he was responsible for the attempted sexual battery of a victim older than 12 years old, four counts of sexual battery on a victim younger than 12, lewd or lascivious molestation, kidnapping and grand theft auto.

Davidson want Welch’s children to hear the details of his crime, including an admission of kidnapping and sexual battery on the mother’s 10-year-old daughter.

“I want to spare the victims from coming to trial,” Davidson said in court.

Judge Don Lester accepted Davidson’s plea and set a trial next week for sentencing.

“You understand there are only two possible options to the court,” Lester said. “It’s either a life sentence – a true sentence – or the death penalty.”

Davidson already had been convicted in 2005 of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child younger than 12. Before that, he was convicted of aggravated and sexual battery. A court still allowed him to be released, but he removed his GPS tracking device and admitted to being on cocaine shortly before the killing.

Future VA Clinic to be named after fallen Middleburg sailor

By Don Coble

Managing Editor

MIDDLEBURG – The new Veteran’s Administration clinic that will open next year will be named after a Chief Andrew K. Baker, a Navy combat search and rescue swimmer who died during a training mission on March 13, 1997.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) said Baker was selected among five candidates by a public vote. The Congressman said, in part:

“I am extremely grateful to all of the community members who nominated individuals and shared these important stories of dedication, service, and sacrifice. I would also like to share my appreciation for VISN 8 – our regional VA hospital system. They have been tremendous partners to work with and have displayed the utmost professionalism and care throughout this process.

“In the case of Chief Baker, we are thrilled that the community chose his name for the new VA clinic and know that his service will be remembered and an example to all. When his wife Tina presented his story at the workshop, not a dry eye was left in the room when she said that all she wanted was for Andy’s name to be remembered. Today, we can be sure he will always be remembered.”

Antisubmarine Warfare Chief Baker died with his Trident 615 H-60 Seahawk crashed off the coast of North Carolina while trying to land on a frigate to refuel during a SEAL training event. All four on board were killed. Baker was attached to HS-3 homeported at NAS Jacksonville and he served on the USS Carl Vinson and USS Coral Sea as a Ship’s Serviceman.

His wife, Tina Baker, spent years trying to make sure her husband memory would be forever remembered.

Tina Baker originally presented a case to have an air crew candidate school in Pensacola named after her husband, but he finished second in the voting, she said.

“He was a simple man doing his job,” she said. “The things that come from simple things sometimes become life lessons. Now I can put this to bed. It’s done. I have great peace from this.”

The mix of rough seas, the pitch of a frigate, visual disorientation caused by night vision goggles and fatigue were likely factors in the accident. The Navy has since reviewed many of its training policies.

“It was a teachable moment,” Tina Baker said.

The wife was concerned her husband’s memory eventually would be lost by time and paperwork.

“There’s going to be some goodness from all of this,” she said. “Now it’s going to be remembered.”

The Clay County VA Clinic has been a five-year initiative for Yoho. In 2014, the congressman secured the funds for the project and worked through three requests for proposals in order to get the current site.

Construction is slated to begin this summer with the opening target date set for spring of 2020. The clinic will boast 20,000-square-feet and will offer lab work, primary care, tele-health and mental health counseling.

By Don Coble

Managing Editor

ORANGE PARK – Naval Aircrewman Operator 1st Class Chris Popovic wasn’t at the Thrasher-Horne Center on Thursday, May 30, to accept his plaque as this year’s winner of the VyStar Award for Military Excellence because he was away doing what he does best – defending the U.S.

Popovic was one of 16 soldiers honored at the annual Clay Chamber Military Appreciation Luncheon. His wife, Christina, accepted the award.

When reached by email, Popovic was overwhelmed by the recognition.

“This has been an incredible year in my career,” he said. “I know there were many deserving candidates submitted and to have been selected to receive the award is truly an honor.

“I want to say that I didn’t do any of it on my own. I wouldn’t be the sailor or person I am today without the love and support of my wife and family. Also, I have been blessed to have great leaders and mentors who put their trust in me and so many great Sailors that I’ve been privileged to work alongside with.

“It’s an honor, one I am truly grateful for. Thank you again!”

Petty Officer Popovic is from Fairview Park, Ohio. His first duty station was onboard USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63, forward deployment to Yokosuka, Japan.

In 2008, he joined VP-30 and trained to take his skills airborne. He joined VP-47 and deployed to Okinawa, Iraq, Sigonella and Djibouti.

He has two air medals, two Navy commendation medals, two Navy achievement medals, Iraqi Campaign medial with Bronze Star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.

His commanding officer, Robert Wilkerson, put it best, saying: “Petty Officer Popovic is an exceptional sailor. He embodies every leadership trait required for achieving extraordinary accomplishments.”

According to VyStar, “the award for military excellence is presented annually to a service member that constantly demonstrates a high degree of excellence, professionalism and integrity in the performance of their duties, and who has proven their willingness to help others throughout our community.”

Rear Admiral Gary A. Mayes, Commander Navy Region Southeast, delivered the keynote address. He talked of the importance of protecting the interests of the U.S. on both land and sea, especially since the International Maritime Organization said more than 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea.

Other servicemen honored were: Aviation Ordnanceman First Class Andrew Marton; Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Sheena Murray, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Ezequiel Gonzalez. Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joshua Lazenby; Camp Blanding Joint Training Center Sgt. Robert Naja III, Staff Sgt. Taylor Peters; Sgt. 1st Class John Yulee and Sgt. 1st Class Edward Sears; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Ramon Vargas; Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class John Blood; Electronics Technician 2nd Class Bryan Brayer; Yeoman 3rd Class Carol Cardenas, Naval Aircrewman Operator 1st Class Blake Delise, Florida Air National Guard Technical Sgt. Steven Eversole; and, Naval Aircrewman Tactical Helicopter 1st Class Scott Fetterhoff.

Study identifies access, poverty, obesity as major health needs in NE Florida

Local nonprofit health care organizations join forces to improve care

Clay Today

Access to care, poverty, obesity and lack of physical activity are among the most significant local health needs, according to the latest Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by nonprofit health care organizations in Northeast Florida, including Clay County.

These issues disproportionally impact certain demographic groups including children, seniors, veterans and the LGBTQ community.

The study collected data from focus groups, interviews with key stakeholders, and surveys in five Northeast Florida counties and provided insight from more than 1,300 individuals who represent the broad interests of the community.

Other top community health concerns based on the report include: behavioral health; cancer; and, maternal, fetal and infant health.

Researchers analyzed regional health care statistics and compared them with other areas and benchmarks, where possible. Additionally, facilitators reviewed findings from recent assessments of the community’s health needs conducted by other organizations.

The Community Health Needs Assessment is conducted every three years to provide local health care organizations and health departments with an accurate understanding of evolving local health needs. The Jacksonville Nonprofit Hospital Partnership commissioned the report. The group’s vision is to improve health in the region by addressing gaps that prevent access to high-quality, integrated health care and by improving access to resources that support a healthy lifestyle.

“As not-for-profit organizations, we all share a common commitment to improving health beyond our own walls,” said A. Hugh Greene, President and CEO of Baptist Health. “By coming together to identify gaps and prioritizing areas of greatest need, we will make a real difference in improving the health of our community’s most vulnerable citizens.”

This was the third CHNA study conducted since the formation of the partnership in July 2011 by leaders from Ascension St. Vincent’s, Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation, the Clay County Health Department, the Duval County Health Department, Mayo Clinic, the Nassau County Health Department, the Putnam County Health Department and UF Health Jacksonville.

“Health needs assessments continue to play a vital role in finding the best solutions for the residents of our community, and we are proud to be a part of this project,” said Dr. Leon Haley, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. “Since we all share a common commitment to providing access to high-quality health care, we are pleased to now have this information that can be used as we move forward to develop solutions to improve the lives of the citizens of northeast Florida.”

“Our Mission calls us to serve all people in our community, with special attention to those most in need, and the results of this assessment help us identify the most important health issues facing the region,” said Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida. “Now, we must take action together to even more effectively care for and serve those who are struggling the most.”

CHNAs seek to identify significant health needs for particular geographic areas and populations by focusing on these questions:

Who in the community is most vulnerable in terms of health status or access to care?

What are the unique health status and/or access needs for these populations?

Where do these people live in the community?

Why are these problems present?

“Guided by the spirit of teamwork, one of Mayo Clinic’s founding core values, this partnership and study provide us a valuable opportunity to improve the quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens in the communities we serve,” said Kent Thielen, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Each hospital in the partnership plans to address significant needs with strategies that have been adopted by their respective boards, with the goal of improving health care outcomes for all Northeast Florida residents.

“This comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment has been an extremely worthwhile endeavor in helping us identify specific gaps in health care that currently exist in our community,” said Doug Baer, President and CEO of Brooks Rehabilitation. “We are pleased to now have this information that can be used as we move forward to develop solutions to improve the lives of northeast Florida residents.”

To read the full report, visit https://www.hpcnef.org/.


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