Clay County, Florida
St. Johns River
What's in a Name
Magnolia Springs through its long history had many names: The Tonyn Plantation, Santa Thomasa(o), Glorat,
Constancia / Constantia, and Magnolia Mills.
The land was part of the Tonyn land grant from the British Period. The land later passed to Thomas Travers and later to
his son William.
William Travers operated a sugar plantation, and also a sawmill with his father's friend Matthew Solana (Solano). It was a
camp in 1839 during the Seminole Indian War. The Travers plantation was burned by Seminoles in 1840.
William's wife, Rebecca Travers, inherited the property. She married again to Joseph Finegan, who at time was a young
upstart. Finegan had grand designs, far beyond the back waters of the St. Johns. The Finegans eventually rebuilt and
remained at Magnolia Springs into the 1850s, when they removed to Fernandina. Rebecca was the sister of Mary
Martha Reid, the wife of the first territorial governor of Florida.
The Finegans sold to Joseph Summerlin. The Summerlins had run the CSA cattle business for Finegan during the war.
Summerline built the first hotel, but quickly sold it to Nathan Benedict. Benedict ran the New York State Insane Asylum.
Benedict bought the property and operated the hotel until the Civil War forced him to St. Augustine. Dr. Benedict is
credited with erecting the hotel in 1851 for the wants of invalids and their treatment under medical supervision. In 1855
in an article from the St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal said that Dr. Benedict was about to open a hotel in Magnolia
for "invalids, where those seeking the benign influence of a southern climate may enjoy the benefits of judicious
medication, proper hygienic regulations and comfortable board and lodging."
The Civil War
During the war, both Confederate and Union troops used the hotel as a local headquarters. In 1864 the 102d U. S.
Regiment of Colored Infantry built Camp Magnolia in ten days. These trenches became golf bunkers during the hotel
Col William H. Noble commanded the 17th Connecticut and was placed in charge of the Union fort at Magnolia. Troops
from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry and the 75th Ohio along with U.S.C.T. troops would be part of the fort.
General Foster ordered Magnolia to be abandoned. Hatch said that the position only furnished: "rebels with fine arms
and horses." The position would be abandoned by the United States army on November 4, 1864.
Orphanage and State Freedmen's Hospital
From General Foster's Freedmen's Bureau 1866 Report:
"HOSPITAL FOR THE DESTITUTE REFUGEES AND FREEDMEN.
This institution was established at Magnolia, twenty miles above Jacksonville, on the St. John's river, in March of this
year, by Colonel Osborn, and now contains forty-one destitutes, who are utterly incapacitated by age, infirmities, or
insanity from obtaining any means of subsistence. None are admitted whose friends are able to afford assistance or
support. The hospital is wholly supported by the bureau, and is under the charge of Dr. J. W Applegate, surgeon of
volunteers. The State of Florida has no asylum of the kind.
THE ORPHAN ASYLUM FOR COLORED CHILDREN.
This asylum was originally located at Femandina, and occupied the house formerly belonging to General Finnegan But
upon the surrender of that house to it? former owner in June, lSliG, I moved the asylum to Magnolia, where the
buildings, which formerly constituted a watering-place hotel, are sufficiently extensive to accommodate both asylums,
with the superintendent and teachers. This asylum, which now contains thirty-three orphans, is also supported by the
bureau, with the exception of the teachers, who are paid by the National Freedmen's Relief Association.
The orphan asylum is under the immediate direction of Mrs. Chloe Merrick, assisted by Miss Farnham, but this asylum is
also under the general superintendence of Dr. Applegate.
The location of Magnolia offers many advantages for these asylums, being directly upon the banks of the river, within
three-fourths of a mile of a fine sulphur spring, called "Silver Springs," with ample accommodations of all kinds, including
a chapel and five hundred acres of woodland. Steamers plying upon the St. John can deliver passengers or supplies
upon the wharf directly in front of the house."
* * *
After the war, the Freedmen's Bureau used the property for an orphanage (which they called an asylum) for African
American children from Jacksonville and surrounding areas and a hospital. The original hospital had been located in
Jacksonville. On March 26, 1866 with Major Arthur Williams supervising the patients were moved by the Darlington to
the new hospital established at Magnolia in the old Magnolia Hotel, twenty miles above Jacksonville, on the St. John's
river by Colonel Osborn, and contained forty-one destitutes. (See Circular) The Florida report of Feb., 1870, gives force
employed as two physicians and six nurses. 653 negroes were treated in this hospital (at Magnolia) during the year
1868-9. In October 1866 the hospital was under the direction of Dr. J. W. Applegate. Dr. Applegate also had the general
superintendence of the Orphan's Asylum that had been moved to Magnolia (ironically they were forced out of Joseph
Finegan's house in Fernandina when he was pardoned by Andrew Johnson.) (Pay for teachers) It was still under the
immediate direction of Chloe Merrick with a Miss Farnham assisting. The bureau attempted to move to Chattahoochee in
1867 but wasn't able to make the move. (See Dr. Benedict letter). When the decision was made to remain at Magnolia
life went on and supplies were bought (See supplies for Magnolia.) There was lots of procedures to be followed at the
hospital because of the total control by the Freedmen's Bureau. (See Disbursement problems and procedures)
By late April 1869 the owners, Nathan and Emma Benedict sold out to physician Seth Rogers and Oliver Harris, the
simple three-story structure was dilapidated.
The plans were in the works from the beginning to move the hospital to the Chattahoochee arsenal. The hospital was
not established in Chattahoochee until 1876 although part of the original plans of establishing a state prison there was
met in 1868 by Governor Harrison Reed. The first prisoner was Calvin Williams convicted of Larceny.
A Winter in Florida by Ledyard Bill, 1869
Magnolia, with a large and commodious hotel. This place was formerly owned by Dr. W. D. Benedict, and originally
selected by him after careful examination for its attractive natural scenery and high sanitary reputation. This property
has recently been purchased by Dr. S. Rogers and O. F. Harris, formerly of Worcester, Mass., and by them greatly
improved; the buildings having been enlarged, thoroughly repaired, and newly furnished throughout for the
accommodation of about one hundred guests. From the reputation of these new proprietors, we should judge visitors
would find this a desirable winter home. The house is to be opened by the first of November.
Dr. Seth Rogers and the Second Hotel
Seth Rogers, his wife and Oliver Harris bought the hotel from Nathan Benedict in 1869. Rogers was the physician for the
33rd USCT . He operated the second hotel. Once again the area begins to flourish. Dr. Rogers also expected to
continue it as a sanitarium. The building held about 50 boarders. Rogers and Harris expanded the hotel and built five
cottages. There would be painters including William Morris Hunt and Alexander Wyant. Wyant's most famous painting
here is "View Down the St. John's River from Magnolia Point."
Magnolia 1872 (Palmetto-Leaves by Harriet Beecher Stowe)
Magnolia is a name suggestive of beauty; and, for once, the name does not belie the fact. The boarding-house there is
about the pleasantest winter resort in Florida. We have been passing a day and night there as guest of some friends,
and find a company of about seventy people enjoying themselves after the usual fashions of summer watering-places.
The house is situated on a little eminence, and commands a fine sweep of view both up and down the river. In the usual
fashion of Southern life, it is surrounded with wide verandas, where the guests pass most of their time, ---the ladies
chatting, and working embroidery; the gentlemen reading newspapers and smoking.
The amusements are boating and fishing parties of longer or shorter duration, rides and walks along the shore, or
croquet on a fine, shady croquet-ground in a live-oak grove back of the house.
We tried them all. First we went in a rowboat about a couple of miles up a little creek. The shore on either side was
ruffled with the green bonnet-leaves, with here and there a golden blossom. The forest-trees, which were large and
lofty, were almost entirely of the deciduous kind, which was just bursting into leaf; and the effect was very curious and
peculiar. ....We returned just in time to rest for dinner. The dining-hall is spacious and cheerful; and the company are
seated at small tables, forming social groups and parties. The fare was about the same as would be found in a
first-class boarding-house at the North. The house is furnished throughout in a very agreeable style; and an invalid
could nowhere in Florida have more comforts. It is more than full, and constantly obliged to turn away applicants; and we
understand that families are now waiting at Green Cove for places to be vacated here. We are told that it is in
contemplation, another season, to put up several cottages, to be rented to families who will board at the hotel. At
present there is connected with the establishment one house and a cottage, where some of the guests have their
rooms; and, as the weather is so generally mild, even invalids find no objection to walking to their meals.
The house is a respectable, good=sized, old-fashioned structure; and being away from the main building, is preferred by
some who feel the need of more entire quiet. Sitting on the front steps in the warm afternoon sunshine, and looking
across to the distant, hazy shores, miles away, one could fancy one's self in Italy...an illusion which the great clumps of
aloes, and the tall green yuccas, and the gold-fruited orange-trees, help to carry out. Groups of ladies were seated here
and there under trees, reading, working, and chatting. We were called off by the making-up of a croquet-party.
The croquet-ground is under the shade of a fine grove of live-oaks, which, with their swaying drapery of white moss,
form a graceful shade and shelter. We shared the honor of gaining a victory or two under the banner of a doctor of
divinity, accustomed, we believe, to winning laurels on quite other fields in the good city of New York. It has been our
general experience, however, that a man good for any thing else is commonly a good croquet-player. We would notify
your editor-in-chief, that, if ever he plays a game against Dr. C___, he will find a foreman worthy of his steel.
In the evening the whole company gathered in the parlors, made cheerful by blazing wood fires. There were
song-singing and piano-playing, charades and games, to pass the time withal; and all bore testimony to the very
sociable and agreeable manner in which life moved on in their circle.
Magnolia is about three-quarters of a mile from Green-Cove Springs, where are two or three large, well-kept
boarding-houses. There is a very pleasant, shady walk through the woods from one place to the other; and the mail
comes every day to Green Cove, and is sent for, from the Magnolia House, in a daily morning carriage. It is one of the
amusements of the guests to ride over, on these occasions, for a little morning gossip and shopping, as Magnolia, being
quite sequestered, does not present the opportunity to chaffer even for a stick of candy. Of course, fair ones that have
been accustomed to the periodical excitement of a shopping-tour would sink into atrophy without an opportunity to
spend something. What they can buy at Green Cove is a matter of indifference. It is the burning of money in idle purses
that injures the nervous system.
Florida It's Scenery, Climate, and History by Sidney Lanier, 1876
Four miles beyond [Hibernia], on the same side, is Magnolia, where are a good hotel (The Magnolia) and private
Isaac Cruft and O. D. Seavey and the Third Hotel
Joseph Story Fay (and his partner Isaac Cruft) bought the hotel from Rogers in 1881 and built the third hotel. The
builder was James McGuire. This was Magnolia Spring's thirty-year heyday. O. D. Seavey ran the hotel and publicized it
In 1883, electric lights were installed at the hotel, the second building to have lights in North Florida, after the St. James
in Jacksonville. In April when President Chester Arthur's steamboat passed they saw the electric lights and fireworks.
The President made a quick stop where he was greeted by the crowd. (Although he did not stay overnight.)
The hotel would advertise accommodations for 300 guests on the grounds of 400 acres. It had elevators, steam heating,
gas and electric lights, and electric bells. The main building consisted of four floors with a broad piazza extending along
the first and second floors. The building measured 175 feet across the front with a wing extension of 228 feet. Both
portions were 42 feet wide. It had a music hall with an orchestra, indoor swimming pool, and photography dark room. A
small heard of cows were kept for "fresh and pure milk."
Eventually a trancar would met the boats and moved the passengers and luggage to the hotel. The owner would have a
private steam launch, the Anemone, for an expeditions.
Seavey would follow Isaac Cruft to the build the San Marco Hotel in St. Augustine. Flagler would steal him to help open
the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. Seavey resigned from the Flagler hotel system in 1894. He traveled around
for two years but remained at his winter hotel Hotel Champlain in New York. Seavey bought the hotel the Magnolia
Springs hotel and remained with it for the rest of his life.
Bottling the Water
A bottling and shipping building were constructed near the Magnolia Spring. The water was bottled in quart and half
gallon bottles either natural or carbonated. The cost for 50 quart bottles was $6 and 12 half-gallon bottles $3.
An Indian mound located within a few yards of the hotel was explored by Clarence B. Moore, an archaeologist who
published a paper noting that the mound was "at present a very symmetrical mound, 7 feet high and 60 feet through the
base. During the past 30 years, it has been opened a number of times and restored to a more symmetrical shape.
1907 (Waugh's Blue Book of Leading Hotels and Resorts of the World by W. W. Waugh & Son)
MAGNOLIA SPRINGS, FLORIDA
Magnolia Springs, which is situated on the St. John's River, 28 miles from Jacksonville, is one of the oldest and most
aristocratic resorts in Florida.
Before the Civil War, Dr. Benedict in seeking a healthful place for a residence, traveled far and near and finally settled
at Magnolia, giving as a reason for so doing that he found the climate dry, free from malaria and mosquitoes, and it
sloped from the river back to high ground, giving excellent drainage to the land. The place was originally named
During the Civil War it was occupied by the Federal troops as a sort of supply station, and quite extensive earthworks
were thrown up, which even now are plainly visible. An avenue was cut through the live oaks and pines, and the works
were protected by the gun boats lying in the river. One or two slight skirmishes took place, but no lives were lost, the
men of both armies being on unusually friendly terms.
The resort originally had a hotel and 5 cottages, all built after the Southern type, each cottage being owned by a
Bostonian. In 1881 the hotel was burned, but through the enterprise of Mr. Isaac Cruft, the hotel was replaced and the
resort again became popular.
The scenery around about Magnolia Springs is very beautiful and of a decidedly tropical nature. The St John's River
broadens at this point into a sheet of water 4 miles wide and continues so for 10 miles, both north and south, which
together with the numerous creeks in the vicinity furnishes abundant opportunity for boating. In fact the waters of
Magnolia Springs have become famous. The Department of Mines and Metallurgy at Washington had a sample of water
at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis, and the result was that a medal and diploma was given Mr. O. D.
Seavey, the owner. Its merits are for softness and purity.
As a resort for sportsmen this resort is one of the most desirable. Fish and game abound here, ducks and quail being
found in large numbers. River trout, black and red bass, are the game fish of these waters. The walks and drives are
picturesque and interesting.
These springs are located on the Atlantic Coast Line, 28 miles from Jacksonville, 27 miles from Palatka, 70 miles from
Ormond, 65 miles to St. Augustine.
Hotels: MAGNOLIA SPRINGS HOTEL, O. D. Seavey, Manager.
Where to Stay in Magnolia Springs 1912
Magnolia Springs, O. D. Seavey; capacity, 300, rates - per day, $4.00 per week, $21.00 up.
Magnolia Inn, O. D. Seavey; capacity, 30; rates - per day, $2.00, per week, $12.00 to $14.00
In 1916 Seavey retired from the hotel business and listed the hotel for sale. The hotel had 200 rooms and 5 cottages
with 12 rooms each.
Florida Military Academy
The hotel remained vacant for a couple of years until Seavey rented it out to Col. Hulvey, who moved the Florida Military
Academy there. The school was well run by Hulvey and his wife until the hotel and two cottages burned on November
11, 1923 (with $100,000 damage). . For a brief period the school operated in three cottages that stood on the property,
but eventually found it's way to a high-rise hotel that had succumbed to the Great Depression.
Magnolia Springs Hotel
MAGNOLIA SPRINGS, FLA.
Delightfully situated on the St. John's River, which broadens at
this point to 4 miles in width and continues so for 10 miles in length.
The Finest Point in the South for Yachting and Boating
Dry Climate, Pure Spring Water, Golf, Tennis, Fishing, Good
Shooting, Swimming Pools, Open Fires, Electric Lighting, etc. No
O. D. SEAVEY, Manager
|Magnolia Springs Railway Depot
Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,