Progress Claiming Clay County's Historic Sites Government Action Needed 'To Get out Ahead of the Growth'

Article excerpt

Bulldozers recently mowed down a Middleburg farm house built in the 1800s to make room for a new Publix grocery store. A public park will soon mark the spot where the Keystone Inn, one of the first hotels in the area, stood until last month.

Longtime residents of the area said the fast-pace growth is stealing Clay County's history. Without action, many fear more historic homes and sites will be lost to suburban sprawl.

"Progress is inevitable," said Gayward Hendry, chairman of the Clay County Historical Commission. "Instead of being reactive in historic preservation, we need to get out ahead of the growth."

In both recent cases, the commission wasn't alerted about the demolition in time.

"The bulldozers were already on site when we found about it," Hendry said.

In 1994, the county passed a historic preservation ordinance that would safeguard documented buildings or sites as safe from demolition. Since then, only one site, the Grant Forman Homestead on Florida 21, has received the distinction.

"The ordinance applies only to the unincorporated areas of the county," said Hendry. "The municipalities must also adopt a similar ordinance, or nothing much can change."

No Clay County cities have adopted such an ordinance, he said.

He'd like the historical commission, comprised of 12 appointed volunteers, to launch a public relations campaign to promote historic preservation awareness. The campaign would target county residents and other historical groups, including the county's historical society.

"We need to let residents, especially the longtime Clay Countians, to know we are here and that we need their help in identifying historic places," Hendry said.

Historic preservation isn't taking a back seat to growth, according to Hendry, who said the county has actively supported preservation. It's the lack of citizen involvement that's hindering the effort to save the county's historic treasures, he said.

"This isn't a support issue, it's an awareness issue," Hendry said.

George Bardin, who's lived in the county for 77 years, said he'd also like to see residents learn more about the area's history. …