The early 1900s found the interior of Clay County peppered with small to medium settlements – Duck Pond, Maxville Farms, Highland, Trail Ridge, Wilderness and on and on. Long Branch was pretty …
The early 1900s found the interior of Clay County peppered with small to medium settlements – Duck Pond, Maxville Farms, Highland, Trail Ridge, Wilderness and on and on. Long Branch was pretty much due west of Green Cove Springs about half way to Waller.
Many of these places and their history have been lost in misty memories. Fortunately, this delightfully romantic meeting and courtship of a young couple, Hattie Pillsbury and William Padgett, have been remembered and passed down through the generations.
The ink was barely dry on Hattie’s teacher certificate when she arrived in Clay County, in 1903, to teach school. She joined two more experienced women teachers in the three-room plank-sided Long Branch School. She was twenty-three years old.
She was diminutive and strikingly lovely. Framing her face was the latest elegant Gibson girl up do hairstyle. She wore high collar white blouses tucked into fashionable yet practical ankle length walking skirts. The hem of the skirts danced at the tops of her always immaculately polished high-buttoned ladies boots.
Her arrival was the main topic of conversation. Handsome and eligible bachelor, William Padgett, was among the first to notice. He had the inside track over the competition because Hattie boarded across the street from the school with his cousin’s family.
William’s family felt that, at 25 years old, it was past time for him to settle down. Now, even in those early days, Clay County was covered up with Padgetts so this meant considerable maneuverings going on to get the two together.
William was considered a catch and had become accustomed to being pursued by young damsels and their mothers. One look at Hattie, a dose of her cordial reserve and the tip from his cousin that she was an excellent cook meant he was terminally smitten.
William made a living cutting and hauling timber. He used the happy coincidence that his frequent route hauling huge hogs to the train yard took him past the school and his cousin’s house to his advantage.
When he drove an oxen team slowly by struggling with the heavy load he had time to graciously tip his hat when he spotted her in the schoolroom window or sweeping the yard at the house. Returning, he took time to pause and exchange a few words.
The teachers organized frequent frolics to supplement the limited funds provided by the county. Particularly popular were the box socials where single women prepared supper in gaily decorated boxes and the young men bid for the food and the pleasure of the lady’s company.
As summer approached in 1904, William took matters into his own hands, made the twenty-six mile wagon ride to Jacksonville and purchased a marriage license – unbeknownst to Hattie. On the return trip, he stopped to invite friends and family to his cousin’s house for the wedding that evening.
They were married for 64 years.