When hostilities ended after the Civil War, Clay County became a major tourist destination. Northerners took advantage of the wave of steamboats that made it easy for them to come south to see relatively unexplored lands.
Many visitors were medical tourists coming to enjoy the warm winter weather and take the “water cure”.
The Magnolia Springs Hotel was, for a time, the most important resort in Florida. Other hotels in Green Cove Springs, like the Hibernia on Fleming Island and others in Orange Park, took advantage of its draw and tried to trump it. This area was a prime location — deep enough into wild Florida to get a feel for the place, but not so far that a decent dinner could still be found. The tourists then were thrilled with the golf and alligators, just as they are today.
The Hotel Era rapidly declined as railroads took tourists beyond Clay County to Flagler’s hotel jewels in St. Augustine, Miami and Tampa. The hotels, mostly wooden structures, were no longer as attractive as they deteriorated or burned. A series of cold winters, in particular that of 1895, didn’t help. Any hope of a hotel-oriented tourism revival ended when WWI put an end to future festivities.
By 1916, there were eight hotels in the whole county, including six in Green Cove Springs: Mohawk (Mrs. C. W. Tyler – 20 rooms), Riverside (Mrs. H. W. Hancock – 10 rooms), Oakland (George R. Duncan – 19 rooms), Quisisana (E. L. Caswell – 59 rooms), Seminole (Mrs. J. W. Lucas – 19 rooms), Clarendon House (Mrs. E. Y. Harvey – 9 rooms), Fleming House (F. A. Fleming at Hibernia – 29 rooms) and Martin (Mrs. M. Martin at Orange Park -47 rooms). By the Great Depression, even these struggled.
Learn more about the early hotels of Clay County and the amazing Fanny Brown, the northern socialite who brought golf to Northeast Florida. What began as a plantation became Brown’s private paradise, and then a hotel run by the Fleming Family again. Find out more in this thought-provoking article, Golf at Hibernia.
Hotels in Other Times
One of the first structures in the Keystone Heights area, this hotel was built by William King after 1900. Later, John J. Lawrence used the structure as the headquarters of his Lawrence Development Co. as he founded Keystone Heights.
Now a private club with bed and breakfast facilities, the grounds and buildings of the Caleb Johnson estate have a rich history, intermingled with the development of Orange Park, Florida. Located on the banks of the St. Johns River, the club is a sought-after venue for many weddings and receptions.
Colonial Inn at Penney Farms
Built in the 1930’s by the WPA out of second-hand bricks, this inn’s last known public function was during the county’s celebration of the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.
The first inn of any sort known in Clay County, it was located on the Alachua Trail. Mrs. Monroe’s Inn was destroyed by fire during the First Seminole War.
St. Johns Inn
Apparently built prior to 1927 and existed when Long Branch changed its name to Penney Farms in that year.