Before and After: Clay County Suburbia

August 20, 2017

When I-295 opened in 1970, Clay County was home to 32,059 residents. Today, an estimated 208,311 reside in the rapidly growing county just outside of Jacksonville. Here's a visual before and after comparison of the county's transformation into a bedroom community of Jacksonville.


(A 1970 aerial of Middleburg)

Originally known as Clark's Ferry, Middleburg originated during the 1820s around Asa Clark's ferry across Black Creek. Named Middleburg in 1853, The town remained relatively rural by 1970. Explosive growth and sprawl throughout northern Clay County over the last few decades has transformed Middleburg into a bedroom community of Jacksonville.

(A 2017 aerial of Middleburg)

I-295 at Park Avenue

(Wells Road in 1970)

When the interchange at I-295 and US 17/Park Avenue was completed in 1970, the former horse racing track of the Florida Driving Club was still visible along Wells Road.  Over the years, Wells Road has been relocated through the property of the former oval track.

(Wells Road in 2017)

Penney Farms

(A 1970 aerial of Penney Farms)

Not much has changed with the development of Penney Farms over the last 47 years. In 1926, James Cash Penney (founder of JCPenney), came to Northeast Florida and created his own utopian village. Penney Farms, was an experimental town intended to be a "scientifically-managed agricultural community”. The Great Depression ended the experiment but Penny Farms lives on today.

(A 2017 aerial of Penney Farms)

Orange Park Mall

(A 1970 aerial of I-295, Blanding Boulevard and Wells Road)

When I-295 opened in 1970, Blanding Boulevard was a rural two-lane road once it entered Clay County. Things would permanently change with the opening of Orange Park Mall five years later. Today, Blanding is known as one of the most congested arterial highways in the region.

(A 2017 aerial of Orange Park Mall, I-295, Blanding Boulevard and Wells Road today)


(1970 aerial of abandoned Branan Field)

During WW2, the Navy acquired property owned by Alvord and Mary Branan in support of operations at NAS Jacksonville and Cecil Field. By 1941, preliminary plans for Outlying Field L or Branan Field had been developed. At its height, the circular airfield featured four 4,000-foot runways to train Navy pilots. Most of the preliminary training for the US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, now known as the Blue Angels, took place at Branan Field. Branan Field was abandoned around 1949.  Up until the development of Oakleaf Village in 2001, the site remained virtually untouched.

(2017 aerial of Oakleaf)

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro and — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at

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