Schools in Clay County

The School Board was organized in Clay County in 1876, although schools were certainly in existence a few years earlier. The Archives has an extensive collection of school information including photographs and Subject Files.

Green Cove Springs High School was the first and only high school for many years. It was originally only a two-year school. Central School, in the Camp Blanding area, was an experiment in consolidating several one-room school houses, but transportation costs were too high. It, like many small schools, were later used to establish churches.

Most of the small frame schools weren’t painted, but were coated with creosote. This was an obvious alternative since it was a byproduct of Clay’s turpentine business.

Private Schools

Black Creek (pre-Civil War)

Martha Chalker relates in a 1980 interview to Truett (St. Augustine Historical Society) that children walked three miles from Middleburg area to a private school run by a teacher from Mandarin. There were about 100 pupils. Perhaps the Duval County Board of Education records survived the Great Fire to confirm this account.

Clay Collegiate Institute

Orange Park. Apparently an unsuccessful venture, being mentioned only once, in Webb’s Historical, Industrial and Biographical Florida, 1885. Run by Rev. W. A. Benedict.

Florida Military Academy

Florida Tourists’ School

Keystone Heights. From the “At Keystone Heights” brochure (Jax Lib F917.5916K44k):

The president of the school, chartered in Lansing, Michigan was Dr. T. E. Johnson, Superintendent of Public Instruction in that state. Schooling could begin at any point, and any textbook could be used. Ready to begin December 1, 1925.

The Institute at Green Cove Springs

Melrose Union Academy

The Melrose Academy is the union of four county schools, being located at a point where the counties of Alachua, Putnam, Clay and Bradford meet.  It was organized in 1878 with Professor C.C. Hill, of Louisville, Kentucky as principal. The building in which the first school meetings were held was an old gin house, the relic of antebellum days. In 1880, at the instigation of Hon. W. N. Sheats, then County Superintendent of Alachua County, a meeting of the citizens was held and a new school building was discussed.

At this meeting the following gentlemen were appointed to act as a committee to investigate the matter and to proceed as they thought proper: Drs. H. A. Vogelbach, Frank McRae, Wash McRae, Mesprs. Jno. Wolf, Jno. McRae, H. Alderman, J. M. Barnett, Alex. Goodson and Mr. Hawkins. Encouraged by the energetic support given by Mr. Sheats, the liberality of the people, and generous gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lynn of six acres of the most valuable land in the town, these gentlemen determined upon the erection of the building, which today stands as a monument to enterprise and progressive spirit of our first settlers. The building is divided into six rooms, a large hall, in which is a splendid stage, music rooms, and recitation rooms, and was valued at $3,000.

The Masonic fraternity laid the corner stone, and Sheats, called the father of the institution, gave it the name it now bears. Over one hundred of its graduates became teachers in the Florida public schools, and it enjoyed the proud distinction of having “but one of its students to fail in a teachers’ examination”. These teacher students are about equally accreditable to the following principals: Profs. C. V. Waugh, G. C. Looney and G. M. Lynch.
The curriculum embraced a primary and High School Course. The Normal Department was conducted by the principal, and a special term of two months is carried on prior to each State examination.

Orange Park Normal School (The Hand School)

Professor’s School in Melrose

St. Johns Country Day School

“Vision: the Story of St. Johns Country Day School: is available at the Archives

Public Schools

Central School

The Board experimented with transporting children from smaller schools to larger ones. The first attempt was Central School. Transportation costs were higher than hoped and only three of these early magnate schools were tried.

Central School was abandoned by 1933 and Beulah Baptist Church was allowed to meet in it until 1942 when the military gave them two months to vacate as Camp Blanding was being built.

A photo of the Central School at Wilderness appears in the photo section of Parade of Memories, after page 134. However, on page 200 the school is apparently in Belmore. It is possible it moved as populations shifted with the waxing and waning of the Green Cove Springs and Melrose Railroad.

Clay Hill

Duck Pond 1927

Green Cove Springs High School

Long Branch (before Penney Farms)

Magnolia School (Freedmen’s Bureau)

After the Civil War, the Freemen’s Bureau used the Magnolia Springs Hotel as an orphanage. Apparently it also erected a small schoolhouse which was transferred to the county in 1870 (Deeds Vol 16, pg 78). Lewis Forrester was one of the first trustees.

Melrose Negro School No. 4

Plantation School

From Parade of Memories, pg 147: Operating in the early 1900’s, this first-through-eighth grade school was in a two-story building at Reid and McIntosh. Students were brought in by prairie schooner. It moved to Smith and McIntosh by WWI and was replaced by the present elementary school on Plainfield in 1927.

Wilderness School

A one-room school existed at Wilderness. It is unclear if the Central School existed here as shown in the photo section of Parade of Memories, or in Belmore (pg 200).

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