The old courthouse you'll see in downtown Macclenny today, now a library, was built in
1908. The jail next door was built in 1911 and had some additions in the 1930s.[now home of the Historical Society]
Courthouse under contruction, 1908
The oldest public building in the county was one of the first buildings to use reinforced concrete construction. Four corner tower like appendages are attached to the main square base in the center making this building unique. The eaves are patterned rolled, galvanized sheet metal. The brick has colored mortar and corner joints are angled.
Gene Barber says of the courthouse:
"Gubernatorial candidate Fuller Warren told his notorious bedbug tale on its steps (the
bedbugs were so thick at a place he once stayed that they lifted him off the bed)."
"Governor Sidney Catts told the locals gathered in its yard that they had three friends--Jesus
Christ, Sears-Roebuck, and Sidney J. Catts. Governor Fred Cone suggested while gossiping in
the hall that maybe giving the vote to women would not be such a bad idea if things could be
balanced off by taking votes away from black males."
"Sheriff Joe Jones sat on a bench in the hallway and sent word to those for whom he had an
arrest warrant to drop by. They always did. Soft spoken Sheriff Jones never wore a gun."
"Sheriff Shannon Green was tragically gunned down at the old building's front door and tried
to drag himself toward his wife and family as his last breath failed."
"Murder trials and their sordid testimonies rang in the upstairs courtroom. Folks dropped off
mustard greens for the officials' wives. Unusually large or strangely shaped fruits and vegetables
were often displayed in the voter registration office."
Gene wrote that when votes were counted at election time, "Observers stood around with
pistols bulging under their belts, while the counters droned, "Tally".
He said that when he was three-years-old his grandmother fell down the front steps of the old
courthouse and landed on top of him. He said, "His grandmother could be described as hefty--rest
her beautiful sole--and it took the efforts of Judge Hardware Brown and a half dozen other
gentlemen to lift her from her squooshed grandson as she laughed heartily all the while".
In conclusion he said the courthouse chimes could be heard a couple of miles away. If you
get the idea that Macclenny had an interesting, exciting, vigorous, Old West type background,
you're correct. Gene can tell you about this corner and that spot where someone was gunned
down. And there was the yellow fever epidemic that wiped out Darbyville and nearly finished
The fever began in Jacksonville and spread to Macclenny. The first victim of "Yellow Jack"
was the Rev. C.S. Snowdan. He had founded the first school in Macclenny, a girls' school built in
1885. That was the St. James Academy for Girls. Everyone thought the Reverend Snowdan was
immune to the disease. They wouldn't even let the Tallahassee to Baldwin train stop in
Macclenny. It slowed enough to throw off supplies for the stricken town. The epidemic forced
the academy to close, never to re-open, and records at the Episcopal Church indicated that more
than 90 percent of the congregation was wiped out by Yellow Fever.
New Courthouse under construction 1946 - U.S. 90 looking west
Quality of Life
My own contacts with Macclenny date from the early 1950s when Tate Powell, Jr. and his
wife, Lois, owned and operated the Baker County Press.
When they sold the newspaper in 1974, I was on hand to buy their hand-set type, a job press
and other printing equipment that I could set up and operate in my garage in Gainesville just to
preserve the old way of printing. I still have all the equipment and at one time completely
hand-set a book of poems and printed it on the small job press.
As a result I feel I have a bit of the history of Macclenny preserved in Gainesville. During my
visits with the Powells since 1952, I have been most impressed about the quality of life that has
been preserved in this small community and the contributions this rural area has made to Florida
and the nation.
For example, at the time I was visiting Macclenny it was known as the horticultural capital of
Florida. That title went back many years to the time George L. Taber moved to the small
community of Glen Saint Mary, just west of Macclenny, and bought some property on the St.
Mary's river. He began raising peaches and in time was selling budded stock to his neighbors.
From that practice he developed a private nursery that in 1907 became incorporated as the Glen
St. Mary Nursery, a name that became a by-word throughout Florida.
Through the years this nursery discovered or developed many new horticultural products. It
was responsible for the standardization of orange varieties.
Today, Macclenny is still a great horticultural center with wholesale nurseries west and south
of town. The Glen Saint Mary Nursery is still around, as well as Southern States Nursery,
another oldie, and Blair Nurseries.
The new kid on the block is Ray's Nursery, Inc. at Sanderson, which was presented an award
recently by Florida's Lt. Governor Wayne Mixon and Jacksonville's Mayor Jake Godbold
"Because of the nursery's increase in economic impact over the past 18 months due to a large
increase in employees and payroll."
There are two kinds of wholesale nurseries in the Macclenny area: container and field
nurseries. Ray's operation is a container variety. The corporation has 180 acres of cans that
contain azaleas, junipers, and broadleaf ornamentals, as well as other plants. Trucks from the
corporation move out all over the southeast delivering their products to landscapers, garden
centers and chain stores. Between 250 and 300 persons are employed by the company, which is
in the process of expanding with the addition of another 100 acres of containers.
These Macclenny nurseries are not fly-by-night, small operations but multi-million dollar
operations. For example, in cold weather like we've had the past two winters it is possible to
spend 50 to 75 thousand dollars for plastic cloth to protect containers that hold five or six million
dollars worth of plants.
During the Great Depression, the nurseries sort of held the economy together in Baker
County--but not altogether.
There was also moonshine. At one time Macclenny was known as the moonshine capital of
Gene Barber says the reason there weren't many moonshiners in Macclenny around 1900 was
because there weren't many people in the area then.
At any rate, the moonshining began to dwindle in the 1950s and has been held to a minimum
in recent years. Someone has said that Macclenny has become a kind of "bedroom community"
for Jacksonville but this is not true because even though the town is considered a rural area it has
many of the features and opportunities offered in larger urban areas. It has a well-equipped
hospital and Rescue Service, a shopping center, many small home-owned businesses, along with
good schools and churches.
There are lots of shaded, uncrowded streets, playgrounds, and plenty of good water. It
appears to be a good place to live and bring up the family.
Let's go back to that sign, "Suits Us". There's a story about it. It's on the "T.M. Dorman
House". Mr. Doman had this rambling Queen Anne house built for his wife, according to her
plans, in 1910.
Neighbors didn't like the plans because the house had so many small rooms. They couldn't
figure out why Mrs. Dorman wanted so many small rooms--and they told her so quite frequently.
As a result, she became tired of saying she liked the house just the way it was so she had the
sign made and put it up--and it is still there, even though the house is owned toady by Mr. and
Mrs. R.I. Lambright, no relatives of the Dormans.
There's one other thing I almost forgot to mention.
It's the hospitality. Frequently in my travels about North Florida I've heard people say, "If
you really want some outstanding North Florida hospitality go to Macclenny." They know what
they're talking about.
Emily Taber Public Library