Magnolia Lake State Park recognized for its history during the civil rights era

Clay Today
Posted 5/8/19

CAMP BLANDING – Maude Jackson has dedicated her life in promoting civil rights and preserving the rich history of a nation’s struggle for equality. Last week, she helped memorialized a significant part of her life by unveiling a state marker at Magnolia Lake State Park, one of four segregated parks in Florida.

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Magnolia Lake State Park recognized for its history during the civil rights era


CAMP BLANDING – Maude Jackson has dedicated her life in promoting civil rights and preserving the rich history of a nation’s struggle for equality. Last week, she helped memorialized a significant part of her life by unveiling a state marker at Magnolia Lake State Park, one of four segregated parks in Florida.

The marker is located on the grounds of Camp Blanding, between Sandhill and Brooklyn lakes. It was built in 1957 to be a separate park for blacks with a lake, boat ramp, dock, swimming area, bath house and picnic pavilions.

Magnolia Lakes was about 10 miles away from a whites-only camp, Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights.

Jackson, who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, frequently visited the park. She was joined in the unveiling by former park ranger Sandy Cook, as well as Green Cove Springs Mayor Connie Butler, Keystone Heights Mayor Karen Lake, Florida Director of State Parks Eric Draper, Chairman of Clay County’s Historical Preservation Board Robert Dews, Col. Frank Zenko and Lt. Col. Michael Allen from Camp Blanding, Gold Head Branch State Park rangers Steve Earl and Kevin Patton and several members of the Florida Trail Association.

Since Camp Blanding is a secured base, the marker will be moved to State Road 21 and Treat Road. A smaller sign also will be placed a mile away along the Florida Trail as you enter the old park.

With the addition of Magnolia Lake State Park, there now are 21 historical markers throughout Clay County.

According to Latitude 34 North, others can be found at:

Camp Blanding. The base was established as a National Guard base in 1939 and is named for Major General Albert Blanding (1876-1970), who commanded a brigade in WWI who was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and was Chief of the National Guard Bureau. He assumed command of the 31st Infantry Division, Florida National Guard in 1924, and served as chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. from 1936 until his retirement in 1940. By 1941, Camp Blanding was the fourth largest city in Florida. In addition to housing and mess halls, maintenance buildings, PXs, field artillery and rifle ranges, the camp had a 2,800-bed hospital, enlisted men´s and officer´s clubs, bowling alleys, four theaters, and five chapels. The first unit trained here was the 31st Division ("Dixie Division"), National Guard units from four southern states. The 43rd Division, composed of men from New England, arrived in February 1941. During World War II, approximately one million men received basic training here, the largest of Florida´s 142 military installations built in the 1940s. A prisoner of war compound, established for about 1,200 captured German soldiers and sailors, was maintained until the prisoners were repatriated to Germany after the war. At the war´s end in 1945, many temporary buildings were sold as surplus. In 1955, Camp Blanding Military Reservation was returned to the State Armory Board for training the National Guard in Florida and other states and active and armed services reserve units.

Camp Chowenwaw. Created in 1932, Camp Chowenwaw (Cho'-wen-waw) derived its name from the Creek word for “sister." Prominent Jacksonville resident Nancy Osborne, with support from local organizations such as the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, led the effort for the Girl Scout Council of Duval County to purchase a 67-acre parcel at the mouth of Black Creek for $250. This newly acquired land served as the camp's grounds. Federal help to build camp structures came from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation during the Great Depression. One of the biggest jobs was the exterior and interior construction of the Big Cabin, including shingles and furniture, from timber harvested on-site. Swedish granite, originally used as ballast in 19th century sailing ships, was donated by G.W. Parkhill and used to construct the cabin's fireplaces. The camp expanded in 1951 by adding another 40 acres. For over 70 years, Camp Chowenwaw enriched the lives of young women by providing them a place to master new skills and talents as Girl Scouts. The camp remains an important part of Clay County history and serves as a county park offering recreational activities in a preserved natural environment.

Dr. Applegate House. Unveiled on May 18, 2019, Dr. Joseph Applegate was honored after he moved to Florida after the Civil War to work with the Freedmen's Bureau at Magnolia Spings. He operated the Clarendon Hotel in Green Cove Springs and lectured on the benefits of the sulfurous waters of the nearby springs. Word spread quickly and Green Cove Springs became a haven for vacationers from the north. The heritage marker is at the River Park Inn on 103 Magnolia Street.

Fort Heilman. Fort Heilman, named after Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Julius F. Heilman, was built in the mid 1830´s at the spot where the north and south forks of Black Creek join. It was a temporary wooden stockade used during the First Seminole War as a quartermaster work shop and storage depot. Clustered around the stockade were the log huts of the small village of Garey´s Ferry. When the Indian wars ended the fort was abandoned.

Fort San Fransisco de Pupo. Pupo is first mentioned in 1716 as the place where the trail from the Franciscan Indian Missions in Apalachee (present-day Tallahassee) to St. Augustine crossed the river. The Spanish government built the fort on the St. Johns River sometime before 1737. Pupo teamed with Fort Picolata on the Eastern Shore, these forts protected the river crossing and blocked ships from continuing upstream. In 1738 after an attack by the British-allied Yuchi Indians, the fort was enlarged to a 30-by-16 blockhouse, surrounded by a rampart of timber and earth. During General James Oglethorpe´s 1739-40 advance on St. Augustine, Lt. George Dunbar unsuccessfully attacked Pupo on the night of December 28th. On January 7th and 8th, Oglethorpe himself took two days to capture the Spanish blockhouses. Oglethorpe reinforced the fort with a trench, which is still visible. Upon the British retreat from Florida, Fort San Fransisco de Pupo was destroyed. Though the fort was never rebuilt, the site remained a strategically important ferry crossing. In the 1820s, Florida´s first federally built road, the Bellamy Road, used the river crossing on the route between St. Augustine and Pensacola.

Gen. Roy Stanley Geiger, U.S. Marine Corps. Roy Stanley Geiger, the “Father of Marine Corps Aviation," was born on January 25, 1885, in his family home on what is now the campus of Middleburg First Baptist Church. He served as a school teacher, principal, and lawyer. Geiger joined the Marine Corps in 1907 and was commissioned in 1909. After tours of duty in Nicaragua, Panama, and China, he became the fifth Marine Corps Aviator in 1917. Major Geiger commanded the 1st Marine Aviation Force in France during WWI. During WWII, he commanded the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Guadalcanal and was named Commander of Third Marine Amphibious Corps for the invasion of Guam and Okinawa. He was promoted to Lieutenant General in July 1945 and was named Commander of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. General Geiger was the most senior marine present at the Japanese surrender on board the U.S.S. Missouri in September 1945. Following his death on January 23, 1947, Geiger was promoted to four-star general by the U.S. Congress. General Geiger is the only general in the American military to be born and raised in Clay County. An icon in Marine Corps history, General Roy Geiger now rests in Arlington National Cemetery.

Green Cove Springs. High ground along the river and a flowing mineral spring drew the first inhabitants to this area some 7000 years ago, but historic development dates from 1816 when George I. F. Clarke erected a sawmill in this vicinity under a Spanish land grant. The first settlement, called White Sulfur Springs, was established in 1854, with a wharf, a store, and several houses clustered around a public square. During the Civil War, Federal troops frequently skirmished with Confederate forces in the vicinity, and finally occupied the town in 1864. Renamed in 1866, Green Cove Springs became the seat of Clay County government in 1871. Tourism flourished, surpassing citrus culture and lumbering as the area´s economic base. River steamers brought visitors to the "Saratoga of the South", noted for the healthful qualities of its famous spring and for hotels and boarding houses said to rival the finest to be found in northern resorts. By the 1890s, the population reached more than 1500. But an expanding railroad system carried tourists southward and a great freeze in 1895 destroyed the surrounding citrus groves. The city´s tourist industry declined sharply. The advent of the automobile age and the creation of a state highway system provided the basis for economic recovery in the 1920s, when the city shared in the general prosperity of the Florida Land Boom. But the collapse of the boom and the depression of the 1930s marked the end of the early development of the city. Between 1940 and 1945, the city experienced renewed development. The population increased from 1752 to 3026 as a result of the wartime construction of Benjamin Lee Field, a 1500 acre air auxiliary complex, by the U. S. Navy. With the end of World War II, thirteen piers were constructed by the Navy and the Green Cove base became home port to a "mothball fleet" of some 600 ships. With its share of returning war veterans, the community´s population grew through the 1950s to a total of 4,233 in 1960. In 1961, the Navy decommissioned its base and the reserve fleet was transferred to another facility. In 1984, the city annexed the former naval base into its corporate limits, tying this part of its heritage to its future growth and development.

Hickory Grove Baptist Church and Cemetery. Hickory Grove Baptist Church was organized in 1863, and the church's congregation first worshiped here in one of the earliest buildings constructed in Clay County. The church was named for a grove of hickory trees that grew here. The original sanctuary was constructed of old growth yellow pine logs that were hewn by the volunteer labor of a detachment of Confederate soldiers stationed in Green Cove Springs. When the log building became unsafe for use, the congregation relocated to a nearby school house on Highland Street, where it remained until a sanctuary was rebuilt in 1913 on the location of the original church. When Highway 16 was rerouted, the church sold the 1913 building to the Florida Highway Department and purchased property on nearby South Oakridge Avenue for construction of a masonry block sanctuary. It was completed in 1955. The church's cemetery is one of the oldest in Clay County and includes more than 300 graves, the oldest of which dates to 1849. The cemetery's distinctive architectural features include obelisk markers and family plots surrounded by wrought iron fences.

Middleburg. Middleburg developed in the early 1800s as a transportation center linking the St. Johns River with the peninsular interior. Originally settled in the 1820s as Clark´s Ferry, a crossing on Black Creek, it became a major military entrepot during the Second Seminole war (1835-1842) with establishment of Ft. Heilman. The Clark-Chalker House dates from that era, when the population reached 800. Served by roads and riverboats, Middleburg gained its name in the 1840s, thrived on the surrounding timber, citrus, and farm economy, and became the first Clay County seat of government in 1858. The United Methodist Church was built in 1847. The 4th Massachusetts Cavalry burned much of the town in 1864. Prosperity returned in the 1870s as river traffic and the citrus industry burgeoned. The population numbered 700 in 1890, before a devastating freeze (1895) and decline of the river trade undermined the local economy. Many houses in the unincorporated town date from the Victorian Era and are found in a historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1990).

Middleburg United Methodist Church. Founded on or before July 27, 1828 by Isaac Boring, a Methodist Circuit Riding Preacher. First known as The Black Creek Methodist Church. This frontier Methodist society met in homes until the present church was built in 1847. In continuous use since that date, the structure represents the oldest Methodist meeting place in Florida.

Built mostly by slave labor, from native lumber and hand wrought nails from local blacksmiths. The heart of pine exterior is of clapboard square edge siding, a design unique to this period. The windows and mahogany wood for the pews were brought from overseas ports. The bell was cast in New York in 1852 and shipped here prior to 1860 by George Branning. It was tolled for the first time for the funeral of his son on February 29, 1860, who died during a swamp fever epidemic. The wide aisle was left down the center to segregate the men and women. The back pews were reserved for slaves. The pews were put together with wooden pegs and hand drawn. The marks of the draw-knife still can be seen. During the mid-1800s the cemetery was used to bury the town Protestants. The Catholic Cemetery was located 120 feet north of here.

In recent years the Cemetery became the burial ground for the community in general.

Old Clay County Courthouse. When Clay County was created in 1858 by the Florida Legislature, Middleburg was named as temporary county seat. As a result of an 1859 election, Whitesville (Webster), became the official county court site. Clay County´s 1st courthouse was located there. In 1871, Green Cove Springs was chosen as the new county seat. Courts met there in 1872, but it was 1874 before a 2 story frame courthouse was completed. In 1889, a new, large 2-story brick building was ready for use. The Old Clay County Courthouse served as the seat of county government until 1973. This structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Orange Park. Orange Park was the site of a cotton and citrus British plantation, Laurel Grove, which was established by William and Rebecca Pengree during Florida's British Period (1763-1783). Following the American Revolution, Florida was returned to Spain, and the Pengrees left. They returned in 1786 with their slaves and a Spanish land grant to produce pine pitch and turpentine (naval stores) for the Spanish. After William's death in 1793, Rebecca ran the plantation until she sold it in 1803 to Zephaniah Kingsley who expanded it. The plantation flourished until it was burned in 1813.

In 1877, the Florida Winter Home and Improvement Company created the Town of Orange Park on most of the original Pengree land claim. Developer Washington Gano Benedict attracted northern buyers by planting acres of oranges in a system of home and agricultural plots. A 5-acre plot sold for $600 and included cleared, fenced land planted with 250 orange trees. River boats brought tourists to the Hotel Marion, including Ulysses S. Grant and Philip H. Sheridan, as well as Buffalo Bill Cody and Chief Sitting Bull in 1880. Small farms, sawmills, and naval stores, in addition to tourism, made up the town's economy.

Orange Park Normal and Industrial School Site. The 1885 Florida Constitution mandated the segregated education of black and white students in public schools. In 1891, the American Missionary Association (AMA) opened the private Orange Park Normal and Industrial School at this site to educate black students. It consisted of several buildings which housed classrooms, dormitories, and workshops. Due to the school's success, white children began to attend. This attracted the attention of Florida's Superintendent of Public Instruction William Sheats, a staunch segregationist. In response, he pushed the state legislature to pass a law in 1895 that prohibited any Florida school, public or private, from teaching black and white students together. The Orange Park Normal School was the only racially-integrated school in the state at that time. The AMA fought the law, and the case went to court, where Judge R.M. Call ruled against the State of Florida. Although the AMA won the case, the damage was done. Public sentiment against the school increased among whites. By 1917, the AMA closed the school. Although segregation persisted in Florida for another 50 years, this school was a pioneering example of integration in education.

Sharon Baptist Church. Organized by the Rev. James Hickey. Charter Members: Robert and Adeline Hogarth, Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Tolar, Mrs. Sarah Smith, Mrs. Mahoney, Mr. and Mrs. R.B. Sullivant, and Mrs. Celia Weeks. Property for church given by T.H. and C.B. Hayden. Cemetery land by Allen W. and May Monroe, Sept. 9, 1886. East of the church in the heart of rural Sharon community were the Green/Melrose railroad station (1883-1899), and the post office (1884-1904).

St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and Cemetery. Hibernia Plantation was founded in 1790 by Irish immigrant George Fleming on a 1,000-acre grant from the Governor of Spanish East Florida. George died in 1821 and his son Lewis inherited Hibernia. Lewis had three children by his first wife. After she died, in 1837 he married Margaret Seton of Fernandina and had seven more children. After the Civil War, the widowed Margaret converted the damaged plantation house into a tourist resort. Church services were held in the mansion’s parlor, while she planned the construction of a chapel. She began building it in 1875 in coordination with Episcopal Bishop John F. Young. The church was named in honor of Saint Margaret of Scotland. The first service, held on April 6, 1878, was for Margaret’s funeral. The chapel was relocated to this location in 1880. The wooden Gothic Vernacular church has a memorial window depicting Margaret Fleming teaching children. The cemetery contains graves of the Fleming family, including George; Lewis; Margaret; their son Francis P. Fleming, Florida Governor (1889-1893); and veterans from the Second Seminole and Civil wars. The church and cemetery were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

The Bellamy Road. The Old Bellamy Road intersects Highway 100 near this point. In 1824, the First session of the 18th United States Congress appropriated $20,000.00 to develop a public road in the Territory of Florida between Pensacola and St. Augustine. It was to follow as nearly as possible on the pre-existing Old Mission Trail.

The St. Augustine to Tallahassee segment was contracted to John Bellamy. He completed this in 1826, using Native American guides and his own slaves. Remnants of the old sand road are used today and part of the Bellamy Road forms the county line between northwest Putnam and southwest Clay County.

Thompson-Chalker Docks. Samuel B. Thompson owned and operated dock and warehouses at the foot of Thompson St. (now Wharf St., name changed about 1951). Thompson's warehouses were burned by Union soldiers in 1864. After the Civil War, Albert S. Chalker operated the docks and on July 7, 1873, was also granted the right to operate a ferry across Black Creek about 200 yards upstream from the docks.

Torpedo Warfare on the St. Johns River. During the War Between the States, the St. Johns River was a highway to Florida´s interior. Lacking warships to counter the Union Navy´s control of the river, Confederate forces turned to the use of torpedoes (submerged navel mines). On March 30, 1864, Captain Pliny Bryan of General Beauregard´s staff in Charleston led a detachment from the 2nd Florida Battalion composed of Lt. J.D. O´Hern, Corp. John Brantley, Pvt. Musco Crenshaw, Pvt. William Taylor and Pvt. John Frisbee to the river. They worked through the night to place twelve 709 pound black powder torpedoes in the navigation channel off Mandarin Point approximately 1 mile South East of this location. While making a return trip to Jacksonville from Palatka on April 1, 1864 at 4:00 a.m., the Union Army Steamer Maple Leaf, a 210 footlong 3250 ton transport piloted by Romeo Murray (a local African-American), struck one of these torpedoes and sank in the channel in less than 5 minutes, killing four crew members. Two weeks later, on April 16, the Union Army Steamer General Hunter struck another torpedo and sank within yards of the Maple Leaf, killing one. By mid-summer two more steam transports, the H.A. Weed and Alice Price, were sunk by torpedoes in the St. Johns north of Jacksonville, causing 5 additional deaths. The H.A. Weed and Alice Price had their machinery salvaged while the General Hunter was raised and sold in the spring of 1865. Attempts to raise the Maple Leaf failed and she remained a hazard to navigation until her upper decks were cleared away in 1889. Today her hull, cargo and secrets still rest below the dark waters of the St. Johns.

Town of Penney Farms 1927. James Cash Penney (1876-1971), philanthropist and founder of J.C. Penney Department Stores, purchased 120,000 acres in Clay County and invited farmers to claim 40-acre tracts by clearing the land, building houses, growing crops and raising livestock. In 1922 Penney and associates formed the Florida Farms and Industries Company that planned, plated and registered 10,000 acres as Long Branch City, whose population rose to 825 in 1930 and is 654 in 2002. Here, in 1926, Penney built the Memorial Home Community to honor his parents. In 1927 the Florida State Legislature chartered the city as the Town of Penney Farms and in 1937 the town limits were reduced to 1,500 acres. The community consisted of a church building and 22 cottages based on French Norman architecture. Modest wood frame dwellings occupied by farmers contrasted with stately Norman-styled buildings. The Great Depression (1929) caused Mr. Penney to sell his holdings except 200 acres, which he deeded to the Memorial Home Community, and turned over its operation to the Christian Herald Foundation. In 1971 it became the self-sustaining Penney Retirement Community, Inc., and in 1999 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Village Improvement Association Women’s Club. On February 20, 1883, the Village Improvement Association (V.I.A.) of Green Cove Springs was organized. Meetings were held in members homes. Money was raised to beautify the town, most of which was used for boardwalks, and 70 feet of clay pavement was laid. In 1888, the V.I.A. formed a childrens auxiliary known as the Star Branch, and ran the first public library until December 1961, when the Clay County Public Library was formed. A kindergarten was maintained from 1900 to 1904 in the public school building, with the V.I.A. assuming most of the expenses. In 1889 the V.I.A. was incorporated. In 1895, a member of the Borden Milk Company family, Mrs. Penelope Borden Hamilton gave the V.I.A. its first permanent home and the lot where the present building stands. That same year, the V.I.A. became a charter member of the Florida Federation of Womans Clubs and acquired membership in the General Federation in 1898. The present building, designed by Architect Mellen C. Greeley (1880-1981) of Jacksonville, was built in 1915 at a cost of $4,589.49 and formally dedicated on February 18, 1915. The V.I.A. continues as an important unit of the community, devoted to social, educational, and beautification projects.


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