NAAS Green Cove Springs: Ruins of Northeast FloridaSeptember 10, 2014 4 comments Print Article
What do treasure hunting trips, hovercrafts, ferries, space exploration, and vintage rail cars have to do with one another? All are related to the environment that makes Reynolds Industrial Park and Clay County Port (formerly NAAS Green Cove Springs) one of the most interesting spots for storytelling in Northeast Florida.
During the 1940s, the primary occupation of Florida was war. In fact, there were more people in Florida engaged in naval aviation training in WWII, than are employed today by the Florida State University System. As in most communities, this was also the case in Green Cove Springs. As early as 1938, the U.S. Navy had considered Green Cove Springs as a potential naval base location.
Caption reads: Squadron VN-12 on flight line at NAAS Lee Field in Green Cove Springs, FL. SNC-1’s in the background & SNJ-3’s in the foreground. (Military Museum of North Florida)
On September 11, 1940, the U.S. Navy made it official, opening Naval Air Station Lee Field, just south of Green Cove Springs. The Air Station was named in honor of Ensign Bejamin Lee who had lost his life in a crash at Killinghome, England, during World War I on October 28, 1918. Benjamin Lee Field was designed to train pilots for landing operations on aircraft carriers during WWII. By March 1941, the U.S. Navy had spent $1.8 million on the base, which consisted of four (4) 5,000-foot runways, aircraft maintenance and support services, and housing for military personnel. The facility was renamed Naval Air Station Green Cove Springs in August 1943. By 1944, the naval station's garrison strength included 518 officers and 1,471 enlisted. On December 15, 1945, NAS Green Cove Springs was downgraded in status to a Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) and transferred to NAS Jacksonville as an outlying field for limited training operations.
US Navy Mouthballed Fleet at Green Cove Springs in late 1947. Photograph courtesy of Ken Adams, RM2/c and http://www.desausa.org/images5/ships_mouthballed_green_cove_springs_fl_2.htm
In 1946, thirteen (13) 1,500 foot concrete piers were built into the St. Johns River, at the cost of $10 million, to securely house the U.S. Naval Atlantic Reserve or "Mothball Fleet" of WWII U.S. Navy ships. At its height, over 600 vessels, primarily destroyers, destroyer escorts and fleet auxiliaries, were stationed at Green Cove Springs, along with more than 5,000 naval personnel and 1,000 civilian employees. Unfortunately, under his first executive order, President Lyndon B. Johnson decommissioned the facility and relocated the fleet to Texas, his home state. Soon, after the 1960 decommissioning of NAAS Green Cove Springs, the City of Green Cove Springs purchased and sold the former military installation to Julian Louis Reynolds, of Reynolds Metal Company, for the development of a multimodal 1,700-acre industrial park served by rail, highway, water, and a private airport. Reynolds established the Reynolds Industrial Park in 1965.
Littered with a large collection of rusting relics, scattered World War II era buildings and infrastructure, there's little doubt that the former naval base would benefit from an extreme makeover. By the beginning of the 21st century, the industrial park had fallen into decline. In 2012, a redevelopment plan, that focused on transforming the former base into a mixed use activity center adjacent to the First Coast Expressway, was created and adopted. Nevertheless, the stories behind the hovercrafts, treasure hunting ships, ferries, and space shuttle parts lying quietly in the remains of the former naval base easily make Reynolds Industrial Park and Clay County Port, one of the most interesting places in Northeast Florida.
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