exploring fleming island

by kellie abrahamson
If you’re heading down Highway 17 through Orange Park, you’ll eventually cross over the St. Johns and be in a new place altogether. For years the area was known as just another part of Orange Park, but a zip code change in 2004 renamed the community what residents had been calling it for some time: Fleming Island. Home to posh residential neighborhoods such as Eagle Harbor and Fleming Island Plantation, the area has been dubbed by some as the “Ponte Vedra of Clay County.” Whether you think that’s something of an overstatement or not, what’s abundantly clear is that over the past decade Fleming Island has enjoyed explosive growth both residentially and commercially. What was once a sleepy rural area has become a destination for shopping, food and fun for Clay County residents.

Back in 1790, Spanish governor Enrique White gave early Florida settler George Fleming 1000 acres of land. Fleming named his plantation “Hibernia,” the Latin word for Ireland, in honor of his home country. Upon his death, the land was passed down to his son, Lewis, who continued to tend to the orange groves and other crops with the help of his wife, Margaret. Hibernia Plantation would be destroyed twice during the 1800s, once by Indians, and later during the Civil War. On both occasions the plantation was rebuilt and today many of the area’s communities, including Hibernia Plantation, Margaret’s Walk and Fleming Island Plantation, are named after these early settlers.

George, Lewis and Margaret wouldn’t recognize today’s Fleming Island. Gone are the orange groves and herds of cattle they tended. Instead the area consists of shopping centers and large residential communities with every amenity imaginable. Families are flocking to Fleming Island in part because of its top-notch schools. According to the Florida Department of Education, of Florida’s 67 school districts, Clay had the 9th highest test scores in the state (Duval, conversely, ranked 52nd). Fleming Island schools outranked all other schools in the county with their high test scores and even higher graduation rates.
Despite the rapid development of the area, Fleming Island has kept some of nature’s beauty intact as well. Hundred-year-old oak and magnolia trees can be seen as you drive down the streets of some of the older communities and many of the area’s wetlands and waterways remain untouched and protected.

things to do
Fleming Island is a relatively small area but there is still quite a bit to do. Your first stop should be St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and Cemetery (6874 Old Church Rd), which is among the five oldest wooden churches still standing and in use in Florida. Commissioned by Margaret Fleming in 1875, the site is a fine example of well-preserved Carpenter Gothic style architecture and is truly beautiful. Next, go for a hike or bike ride on Black Creek Trail (7890 Highway 17). The trail is approximately 7 miles long and is mostly shaded, making it ideal for running, bike riding or just a casual stroll. Boating is a big part of life on the First Coast and folks on Fleming Island love it too. Swing by the Fleming Island Marina (3027 Highway 17, 269-0027) to check out the boats and the killer views, or to pick up your own sea-worthy vessel. Last but certainly not least, Fleming Island recently became home to a brand new Carmike movie theater. The Fleming Island 12 (1820 Town Center Blvd, 621-0221) is sure to be a hit with residents from all over Clay County. For more information on this exciting new addition, see our story on the next page.

night life
While Fleming Island is growing, it’s still a fairly quiet community and most nights everything is closed by 11. Still, night owls can find something to do if they look hard enough. Grab a slice and a beer and hear some live music at Mellow Mushroom (1800 Town Center Pkwy, 541-1999). You can also grab a bite and hear some live tunes at Whitey’s Fish Camp (2032 CR 220, 269-4198) or Mercury Moon (2015 CR 220, 215-8999). Sports bars like Box Seats (2245 Plantation Center Dr, 637-0152) Hurricane Grill and Wings (1810 Town Center Blvd, 644-7315) are other late-night hotspots worth checking out. In addition to the above, a promising new addition to the area opened late last month. Fleming Island’s first night club, Club Myth (1809 Eastwest Pkwy, 264-9955), promises to shake things up a bit in the sleepy suburb!

Good eats are essential to civilized life and Fleming Island restaurants know how to serve some up! If you’re in the neighborhood be sure to check out Blu Grotto (1811 Town Center Blvd, 278-7250), a yummy blend of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant is known for its delicious and healthy fare and its use of organic, all natural ingredients. If it’s barbeque you crave, head across the street to Mojo BBQ & Blues (1810 Town Center Blvd, 264-0636). This is the local chain’s third location and both the food and the atmosphere live up to the Mojo name. Finally, Whitey’s Fish Camp (2032 CR 220, 269-4198) is well-known for dishing out some of the best seafood in Northeast Florida. Try their celebrated catfish dinner and find out what fresh fish should really taste like!

Chains and big-box stores are commonplace in most suburban communities and Fleming Island is no exception. But there are some exceptional locally-owned retail locations that you should also check out. Grassroots Natural Market (1915 Eastwest Pkwy, 541-0009) opened a terrific Fleming Island location last year. The store sells organic and healthy snacks, dietary supplements, homeopathics and so much more. Gifts for mom are easy to find at Patches Gifts (1700 Hwy 17, 278-8400), a charming little store that sells Yankee Candles, Willow Tree figurines and Vera Bradley bags. Nearby Peterbrooke Chocolatier (1544 CR 220, 278-8828) has tempting goodies for sale for when you need a chocolate fix. Finally, work off those Peterbrooke pounds by picking up a new bike at Open Road Bicycles (1560 Business Center Dr, 541-1816).
The businesses and locales mentioned above are just a glimpse of what Fleming Island has to offer. Come explore the area for yourself and see what you can find!