What does the J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway look like in the year 2030? The S.R. 16 corridor, the gateway to the Town of Penney Farms, traverses a community that is over 100 years old and offers a flashback to the “small town” America of old in the midst of urban development. There is much to see and do along this designated stretch of S.R. 16 and the loop of local streets in and around town.
From first glance visitors are awed by this picturesque and historically significant town, dating back to 1922. Prior to being the platted community originally known as Long Branch City, there was a settlement of clustered homesteads among the vast cattle ranges. Now, travel this scenic highway, rich in history and steeped in culture. Look up at the lush canopy of ancient oaks and magnolias arching above. You will be tempted to take a pleasant stroll or a quiet bike ride. Close your eyes and you can hear the birds, smell the clean air, feel the soft breeze rustling the trees, and even hear the train chugging toward Green Cove Springs, as it did a century ago. Come and enjoy the experience!
The significance of the S.R. 16 scenic corridor and the resources it offers transcends the typical driving experience. The unique history, culture and natural resources are well defined and offer the visitor a compelling experience. Education about the experimental farms, the magnificent tree canopy, and individuals for whom streets were named, makes the history come alive and creates a desire to understand, preserve and protect everything that travelers enjoy. Historical tree classification ensures that the old oaks and magnolias will be given special consideration when and if S.R. 16 must be widened.
Driving, biking or walking along the corridor, seek old family names in the dual cemeteries at the east end of the route, marvel at the grandeur of the ancient tree canopy, study historical markers, and envision men and mules tilling the fields. These workers were the true pioneers of Penney Farms. Further into town, quaint shops displaying antiques and local crafts beckon, while a small café with outdoor tables offers a quiet place to sip a cool beverage and plan your visit. Note how small shops and the café are built to match the distinctive architecture found in town. This was accomplished by creating a plan and working closely with developers at every step in the process.
Your first stop must be the visitor center to pick up brochures, maps and booklets about the history of the town J.C. Penney founded, sites to see, and activities to do here and around Clay County. For the history buff, the museum is where to start, with artifacts and photographs, along with samples of old farm implements and so much more. Moving along, there are many points of interest to see, including the French Norman architecture of the Penney Retirement Community, two interesting churches reflecting different times and cultures, an old restored tenant farmer cottage, archives, a model railway exhibit, the 1920s post office, and a bronze statue of J.C. Penney.
A parking area at the visitor center is landscaped with shade trees and drought-tolerant plantings. A golf cart and trolley service encourages visitors to leave the car behind and enjoy the pedestrian-friendly town. Attractive litter receptacles strategically placed along the sidewalks encourage recycling and preserving the natural beauty of the Town of Penney Farms.
For the exercise enthusiast, there is the opportunity for a tennis match on an excellent court, a bike ride or brisk walk along marked trails through shady woods, sidewalks to wander the length of the corridor, a playground for little ones, picnic facilities and the Martina C. Kohler Park where scheduled events are offered in the bandstand. At certain times of the year attend a festival, arts and crafts sale, Arbor Day happening or parade on the shady streets. Everywhere, residents greet you with a smile and friendly wave.
After time to relax back at the visitor center or a local restaurant, head west to the military museum at Camp Blanding, home of the Florida National Guard Homeland Defense Training Center, north to the Historic District in Middleburg, where a ferry boat once crossed the river, or east to take in an event at the Clay County Fairground and see the Rediscover Early Florida Village before heading to the railroad museum and old courthouse in Green Cove Springs, en route to St. Augustine, Florida’s oldest city. For those who want to tarry longer in the area, there is the opportunity for a pleasant dinner and a comfortable night at one of the restaurants or motels found at the interchange where the new First Coast Outer Beltway, linking Clay County to St Johns County, crosses S.R. 16 a short distance from Penney Farms.
After exploring the J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway, most visitors will want to return again to enjoy the sights that inspired the community, in 2010, to preserve this piece of northeast Florida history for future generations. Each time they come, hopefully there will be new artifacts in the museum, another replica of former buildings, and more activities to enjoy.
The J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway passes through a series of natural and majestic features, including oak and magnolia canopies, and a variety of bottomland hardwoods, commercial forest, mesic hammock, and wetlands landscapes. The corridor allows travelers to experience Penney Farms community by experiencing its cultural, historical, and scenic resources, such as Penney Memorial Church, Penney Retirement Community's French Norman architecture, and the New Hope community.
The J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway is a unique area for tourists and visitors to walk or ride a bike along the scenic highway to view Penney Farms' natural and historical resources and the oasis "garden spot" within the community.