Clay County became a major tourist destination when hostilities ended after the Civil War. Northerners took advantage of the wave of steamboats that made it easy for them to come south to see relatively unexplored lands.
Many medical tourists came 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 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, particularly that of 1895, didn’t help. Any hope of a hotel-oriented tourism revival ended when WWI ended 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 the Fleming Family ran again. Find out more in this thought-provoking article, Golf at Hibernia.
Early Hotels of Clay County
Clarendon– The Clarendon opened in December, 1871. Together with its two cottages, it accommodated 200 guests.
Gleave House– Green Cove Springs. Owned by Stanislaus Glinski, and previously by Emily Barbino. (Parade of Memories, pg 125)
Hibernia– This postcard is one of the only images which shows the Fleming house as the Hibernia Hotel. It lists Mrs. F. Fleming as the proprietress.
Keystone Inn– Built in 1923 on Lake Geneva
Magnolia Springs– The County now maintains a cemetery that happened to be on the property. It was located where the St. Johns Landing Apartments now stand.
Morganza– See Rivercraft
Park View Hotel– Orange Park. Previously called Hotel Marion, it was later purchased by Moosehaven and became Brandon Hall.
Palmetto House– Green Cove Springs. See Hooper’s “Clay County,” pg 68.
Parkview– Orange Park. Burned April 2, 1881 (see A. M. Reed Diary)
Pines– Green Cove Spring
Qui-Si-Sana– The Qui-Si-Sana, in Green Cove Springs, worked hard to upstage Magnolia Springs, and featured a casino. Torn down in 2002 to build the new Town Hall.
Rivercraft (Rivercroft)– The St. Elmo, The Morganza
Seminole Hotel (The Tyler House)- Photo in Hooper’s “Clay County,” pg 75
Sparhawk (Orange Park)
St. Clair Hotel– Built by Theodore Edgerton in 1873. 50 rooms. A brochure is available at the Florida State Library in Tallahassee (OCLC 43678884).
St. Elmo– See Rivercraft
Union Hotel– Green Cove Springs. Accommodations for fifty guests. (Parade of Memories, pg 125). Built by Joseph D. Mitchell. Sold to Theodore T. Edgerton in 1873. He tore it down and built the St. Clair.
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.