February 23, 2022
Clay County’s Penney Farms Filled with History and Beauty
Located in Clay County, just west of Green Cove Springs on State Road 16, also known as the J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway, the town of Penney Farms welcomes travelers with a canopy of large oak and magnolia trees lining the highway. Also designated as a National Tree City participant, this small town is a quiet place filled with beauty and rich history dating back to 1927 when department store mogul, JC Penney purchased land there.
Take a look at the history behind Penney Farms, one of Clay County’s small towns filled with big passions.
J.C. Penney, The Man
In 1922, as the owner of the Golden Rule Stores around the country, now known as JC Penney, James Cash Penney purchased 120,000 acres of unincorporated land with the hopes of creating an experimental farming community and a utopian village. He brought homesteaders from across the country and all walks of life and provided them with 40 acres of land per family and offered training and equipment to farm on their own. After being successful for two years, they would own the land.
In addition to purchasing the land, J.C. Penney also founded the Memorial Home for ministers and missionaries with low incomes to retire there and prosper. Memorial Home was a tribute to his minister’s father, wherein a community formed around itself with the incoming settlers.
In 1927, the unincorporated Long Branch City was renamed Penney Farms and chartered in honor of James Cash Penney.
Penney Farms, The Community
Today, the town of Penney Farms is home to a population of nearly 900, of which over 500 are residents of Penney Retirement Community. The town’s retirement community is unique in that it is one of the oldest in the country to feature continuing care from independent homes and apartments to nursing care for differing needs.
The town holds community events throughout the year including an old-fashioned farm day with demonstrations, displays, and food and drinks vendors available. During the winter months, community residents host a marketplace with handmade goods for sale to the public – perfect for the holiday gift-buying season.
Penney Memorial Church and New Hope Baptist Church welcome residents and visitors to attend services held on a weekly basis. Numerous community parks are open to the public with Playground Park serving as home to a large, covered pavilion for events and rentals, alongside a playground, outdoor grills, restrooms, and more. Walking trails, bike paths, lighted tennis courts, and a pickleball court allow guests to enjoy the outdoor beauty of Penney Farms.
Penney Farms, The Museum
Since opening its doors to the public in November 2021, the Town of Penney Farms Historic Museum welcomes visitors to peruse the artifacts and photos on display to learn about the people and past events that make up this historic town.
With a focus on the pre-1920s through the 1940s, the museum begins with the stories of a small group of African American sharecroppers that settled in what is now the New Hope community in 1920. There, they built a church, and homes clustered surrounding the church building.
Descendants of the area’s homesteading families will be especially interested in seeing Census Reports for the Penney Farms area dating back to the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Other items from the early 1920s homesteading era include artifacts of fashion, furniture, and household supplies and equipment, most donated or on load by area families. Visitors can also learn about the life and times of James Cash Penney with a model display of his first “Golden Rule” store (now known as J.C. Penney’s) in Kemmerer WY.
Located in the former Penney Farms Volunteer Fire Department building, the historical society has plans to host educational programming and activities at the museum so future generations can learn and continue adding on to the stories that make up the Town of Penney Farms. The museum is adjacent to the Town Hall at 4100 Clark Avenue, just one block off of the J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway. The Town of Penney Farms will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2027. To learn more about the town of Penney Farms and to plan your visit to this historic area, visit www.penneyfarmsfl.org.