JC Penney Memorial Scenic Highway: No Need to Shop for R&R

    By Dalia Colon

    Where: The corridor, a.k.a. State Road 16, through the Town of Penney Farms in Clay County, southwest of Jacksonville.

    Length: 3 miles.

    How to get around: Drive, bike or walk.

    Best time to visit: Springtime, to see the dogwoods and azaleas in bloom, or October for the annual Penney Farms Historic 5k Run.

    Fun fact: Penney Retirement Community was founded as a home for retired missionaries—a cause close to JC Penney’s heart. But today, the home welcomes residents and visitors of all creeds.

    For more info: Check out jcpenneyscenichighway.org.

     

     

    Henry Flagler had railroads. John Ringling had the circus. And James Cash Penney had farms.

     

    The department store mogul, better known as JC Penney, used part of his fortune to invest in Florida farmland. In 1926, the snowbird paid $400,000 for 120,000 acres along state route 16 to start what’s still known as the Town of Penney Farms.

     

     

    Because Penney bought the farmland in his retirement, it’s fitting that the centerpiece of town is Penney Retirement Community. While the neighborhood is home to older adults, many of its events are free and open to the public, including concerts, art exhibits and more.

     

     

    Retired or not, visitors will immediately feel relaxed as they cruise amid the oak and magnolia trees that Penney planted so many years ago.

     

    “It’s a very attractive drive,” said Cathie Parrott, coordinator of the JC Penney Memorial Scenic Highway. “The sun sparkles through the canopy.”

     

    If visitors prefer non-motorized transportation, the community is easily walkable or bikable.

     

    “The town is not big,” Parrott said. In fact, there are no hotels or restaurants along the road.

     

    But the area isn’t without its points of interest. Visit Penney Memorial Church, which contains memorabilia paying tribute to the businessman and his Primitive Baptist parents.

     

    Also explore the “tenant farmer cottage,” an original home to African-American sharecroppers who worked for Penney in the mid-1920s. Train lovers can also enjoy demonstrations and geocaching at the Penney Retirement Community Model Railroad Club’s model railroad exhibit.

     

    It’s sure to put you on track for a relaxing visit.

     

    Photos by Daron Dean for VISIT FLORIDA

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