By  Mike Miller  Updated January 8, 2023

Penney Farms is an incorporated town of 749 people in Northeast Florida.  It is located on State Road 16 between Green Cove Springs and Starke.  

James Cash PenneyJames Cash Penney, 1875-1971

As you drive through you will think it's just another North Florida town with wide streets and large shade trees.

The tidy wood frame houses and well kept masonry buildings will remind you of a time gone by.

If you stop to read one of the historical markers in town, you will find out more about the story of this unusual little community.


James Cash Penney was a businessman who opened his first department store in Wyoming in 1902 and grew his operation to thirty J. C. Penney stores by 1912. 

Most of his early stores were in the western states. 

Penney Farms Aerial View 1947Penney Farms Aerial View 1947

It is an understatement to say that Mr. Penney was a success.  By 1924 he was earning more than one million dollars a year back when that was really good money.

Cattle at Penney Farms, FloridaCattle at Penney Farms, Florida

He didn't just sit on his wealth, however.  He put his money to work on various philanthropic ventures.  One of those was Penney Farms.

He started by buying 120,000 acres of farm land in Clay County, Florida just west of Green Cove Springs.

Penney Farms Foremost DairyPenney Farms Foremost Dairy

His plan was to develop a farming community based on the same principles that helped him succeed with his department stores.

His idea was to let farmers earn shares in the community by raising crops and using the money to buy interest in the land.

Penney Farms, Florida

Mr. Penney was a man of strict moral values and subjected applicants for his farming community to a rigid questioning.

Aerial View J.C. Penney MansionAerial View J.C. Penney Mansion

They had to fill out an application and promise not to use alcohol or tobacco.  Character references were also required.

Statue of J. C. Penney at Town HallStatue of J. C. Penney

He got enough takers that by 1927 Penney Farms had 300 buildings including a general store, a post office, and a garage.

Agricultural products included cattle, pecans, persimmons, oranges, grapes, and a variety of vegetables. 

J. C. Penney Mansion, Penney FarmsJ. C. Penney Mansion, Penney Farms

Mr. Penney established an institute of applied agriculture that provided training to members of the community.

He also founded another philanthropic venture, The J. C. Penney Foundation Memorial Community.  This was built for retired ministers and other Christian church workers and their spouses. 

The community included 22 buildings with furnished apartments and a memorial chapel.

Penney Farms Aerial PhotoPenney Farms, Florida

The Great Depression nearly wiped out James C. Penney.  He had to sell all but 200 acres of his vast land holdings in Clay County. 

He deeded the land to the Memorial Community. 


Since 1971 the land and buildings he donated have been operating as the Penney Retirement Community, Inc. 

Church at Penney Farms, FloridaMemorial Church at Penney Farms, Florida

In the 1950s the community opened its admission to not only clergy and retired missionaries, but to anyone desiring to live in a Christian Retirement Community. 

Apartment building at Penney Farms, FloridaApartment Building at Penney Farms, Florida

The retirement community now consists of approximately 500 residents.

Penney Farms has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999.


Historic District
Penney Farms, FL 32079.

While this area might not have a specific address or phone number to call, its open streets welcome visitors to explore at their own pace. Walking through it, you'll get a sense of stepping back in time.

The architecture of the original buildings and the beautifully maintained landscapes reflect the town's founding principles of simplicity and community. It's a favorite way to appreciate the vision and history of Penney Farms.

Penney Memorial Church
4465 Poling Blvd, Penney Farms, FL 32079 | (904) 284-4574

More than just a place of worship, this church is a cornerstone of the Penney Farms community, embodying the philanthropic spirit of its founder. The church's architecture is a marvel, reflecting the historical and cultural significance of the town.

Throughout the year, it hosts a variety of musical performances, lectures, and community events that are open to the public. Whether you're interested in spiritual enrichment or cultural experiences, the Penney Memorial Church offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
6239 State Road 21, Keystone Heights, FL 32656 | (352) 316-4286

Roughly a 20-minute drive from Penney Farms, this state park is a favorite among locals and visitors for its hiking trails, sandhill lakes, and the stunning ravine created by Gold Head Branch.

It's a perfect spot for bird watching, picnicking, or simply enjoying a day out in nature. The park's diverse ecosystems and tranquil setting make it an ideal destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Penney Farms Retirement Community
3495 Hoffman St, Penney Farms, FL 32079 | (904) 284-8200

This retirement community, at the heart of Penney Farms, often hosts events and activities that welcome the broader public. From art shows and concerts to educational talks and holiday celebrations, these events showcase the talents and interests of the residents while fostering a sense of community.

Participating in these activities offers a great opportunity to engage with the local culture and meet the remarkable individuals who call Penney Farms home.


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