Celebrate Clay County History Month: Notable People and Places in Clay County

May is Clay County History month and roots run deep in our area with military history, music history and more.

This month, let’s take a look at some of Clay County’s historic places and people to learn about the stories that make our area unique for residents and visitors.

Military History in Clay County

Camp Blanding Military Museum-Aircraft
Camp Blanding Military Museum-Aircraft

The Camp Blanding Military Museum & Memorial Park is owned and operated by Camp Blanding where exhibits focus on the area’s role during World War II. A weapons collection, photo exhibits and other military artifacts are on display as part of the museum experience. The adjacent Memorial Park contains monuments honoring nine Army infantry divisions and all who trained at Camp Blanding. Other monuments at the park honor recipients of the Medal of Honor, Purple Hart and former Prisoners of War.

In Green Cove Springs, the Military Museum of North Florida is housed on the grounds of World War II’s Benjamin Lee Field which once served as the main training base for the F6F Hellcat fighter. The museum features exhibits, displays, artifacts and military vehicles from all branches of service and major conflicts from the Spanish American War to present day. The museum also celebrates Clay County’s and Green Cove Springs’ support of the WWII effort with the airfield and the Moth Ball fleet.

Green Cove Springs Celebrates 150 Years

several groups of people sitting in a park with a creek running by

Green Cove Springs, the County seat of Clay County celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2024. As the quaint, small town that serves as the county seat, Green Cove Springs has always been a gathering place. From the 1870s around the spring pool or today enjoying a festival in Spring Park, these are just a few reasons why people still enjoy relaxing and exploring in this friendly community.

Notable Clay County Residents

Augusta Savage sculpting

Clay County’s own Civil Rights movement icon, Maude Jackson and Augusta Savage, one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance have deep roots within our area. Learn more about both of these remarkable ladies in our Explore Clay blog highlighting Black History Month

Orange Park resident, Mary Helen Hoff served as the inspiration for the POW/MIA flag after her husband, Navy Cmdr. Michael G. Hoff was shot down in combat and declared missing in Vietnam. Mrs. Hoff contacted a national flag maker and shared the idea of creating a flag for those military members that served, only never to return home. Moody Avenue in Orange Park received an Honorary Roadway Designation in her honor with an official plaque placed at Moody Avenue Park.

Musical history also runs deep in Clay County serving as the home of Lynyrd Skynyrd and more!

Lynyrd Skynyrd at Hell House

As the original lead singer and songwriter of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie Van Zant wrote most of the band’s first and second albums in Green Cove Springs in the early 1970s. With hits like “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”, a plane crash took the life of Ronnie and bandmates in October 1977. Laid to rest at Jacksonville Memory Gardens in Orange Park, his name lives on at Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park in Green Cove Springs, the county’s largest regional park.

As founder and leader signer of .38 Special, younger brother Donnie Vant Zant made a name for himself in Southern Rock history with hits like “Hold on Loosely”, “Caught Up in You” and more. While the band continues on, Donnie has retired from music and still lives with his family in Clay County.

As the youngest brother of the Van Zant family, Johnny became the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynrd in 1987, keeping his brother’s legacy alive with new music and touring the country – all while continuing to call Clay County his home. Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

And yep, we’ve got sports figures with ties to Clay County too!

A product of Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, NFL linebacker Cliff Avril lead the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl victory in 2014. Drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, Avril returns to the area often for charity work for the Cliff Avril Family Foundation.

Football Camp Group Photo of participants, helpers, coaches and NFL Players
Football Camp Group Photo of participants, helpers, coaches and NFL Players

As USA Swimming’s Male Athlete of 2017, Caeleb Dressel won seven gold medals at a single world championship, putting him along the ranks with Michael Phelps. The Clay High graduate made his Olympic debut in 2016 as an Olympic finalist in the 100 free- and a two-time relay Olympic gold medalist.

The stories, people and places of Clay County help strengthen the community and help remind us of days gone past and allow us to feel pride for our county. To learn more, check out this Explore Clay blog on Clay County history. For an extra deep dive into Clay County history, visit the Clay County Archives Building in Green Cove Springs. 

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