Agriculture in Clay County

A Clay County farmer standing next to corn stalks that are taller than him.
Clay County has always been a rural county with wide expanses of forests punctuated with open fields. The first big attempts to clear land were made in the British period (1763-1783), mainly on the Upper & Lower Crisp land grants (Orange Park area), Hibernia (Fleming Island), and the Tonyn Plantation (Black Creek and Magnolia). Indigo and sugar were the main crops. Indigo was abandoned after a severe drought, but it is still rumored to be seen growing wild in the county. Sugar production remained a focus during the Spanish period and continues even to this day on a few family farms.

Long time Clay County residents may recall a time in their childhood when orange groves still dotted the landscape, especially in the Orange Park area. Palatka in Putnam County was also covered with orange groves. However, the freeze of 1895 killed groves in both areas, ending the local spirit for cultivating citrus.

Citrus exports were first shipped by steamboat and then by rail when the Jacksonville, Tampa, & Key West Railroad arrived just before the turn of the century. Later, as the roads improved slightly, “truck farming” became important.

Several large land companies attempted to attract farming immigrants, most notably at Penney Farms.

The Archives is pleased to have in its collection several agricultural pamphlets including:

  • Walkill Farms
  • Florida Farms & Industries
  • Penney Farms

Soil

A map from the Department of Chemistry and Soils, 1920
The entire county is sand (9), punctuated with sandy loam (4, 5 & 6).
[1920 Dept of Chemistry and Soils]

Truck Farming in Melrose

A man holding crops in a Melrose Truck Garden

Potato Farming in Middleburg

A photo of potato farming in Middleburg

Orange Grove at Orange Park

Orange trees in Orange Park

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