Lynyrd Skynyrd connection boosts tourism in Florida county

Don Johnson

Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd was back in the news recently with word that the Jacksonville house where the Van Zant brothers grew up is on the market.

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s co-founder and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, current lead singer Johnny and .38 Special co-founder Donnie all grew up in an area of Jacksonville they called Shantytown.

The nine bedroom, seven bathroom house, 5419 Woodcrest Road, is listed on Zillow for $629,000. It comes with a historical marker in the front yard, noting the home’s significance to the band’s legacy.

Jacksonville takes credit as the birthplace of southern rock – both Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers band were formed there.

But Clay County tourism folks want Lynyrd Skynyrd fans to know that their county also shares in the band’s legacy. A 90-acre park in Lake Asbury is named after Ronnie Van Zant, who died in a 1977 plane crash in a Mississippi swamp with two other band members and the band’s road manager.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash occurred because the chartered plane ran out of fuel.

Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park opened in 1996 and was built with money from the private Freebird Foundation, a nonprofit created by friends and family of the band and named after one of the band’s biggest hits.

Kimberly Morgan, director of Clay County’s tourism department, said highlighting connections to the band is part of an effort to attract Lynyrd Skynyrd fans to the county.

She said the band “wrote all of their hit music here. We celebrate that.”

Morgan said tourists are looking for a way to experience a community and the county’s connections to the southern rock band is one way to provide that experience.

“We have to tell different stories unique to our community and that is the Lynyrd Skynyrd story,” she saId.

Morgan noted that Johnny and Donnie Van Zant still live in the county and are active in the community.

Clay County’s 2022 Visitors Guide offers an itinerary of notable Lynyrd Skynyrd sites in the county, such as Brickyard Road in Middleburg.

Ronnie Van Zant was living at the Middleburg home at the time of his death.

“Released as a single in 1990, Johnny Van Zant wrote the song, “Brickyard Road” as a tribute to his brother, remembering the memories they made along this street. This street was the last place he saw his brother alive and the music video for this song was filmed on Brickyard Road,” according to the visitors guide.

The guide also suggests that “experienced boaters can explore the nearby waterways of Black Creek and the adjacent Peters Creek, both known to be popular spots for Ronnie Van Zant and band members to fish and enjoy the outdoors. Set out on a boat, canoe or kayak and see what you can discover.”

“In the early days of Lynyrd Skynyrd, long before the release of their first album, band members would gather at an early ‘rehearsal studio,’ lovingly named by the band as ‘Hell House’ due to the small space and warm temperatures,” the guide says.

“Hell House’ was located on a farm along Peters Creek near Green Cove Springs. The band wrote most of their first two albums on the property, according to the guide. The structure was later destroyed by fire and the property is now part of a gated community.

The guide also makes note of Whitey’s Fish Camp, located on County Road 220 in Fleming Island, which is called Ronnie Van Zant’s favorite restaurant.

To read the complete guide, click here.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy also is included in the county’s new virtual bingo game of historical sites.

The Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park is among the sites included in the bingo game that was announced in May. The Clay County History Bingo Card features 24 historic sites to visit in Clay County. Families can use the bingo card as a game, exploring historic sites across the county, and marking them off as they go. To get your bingo card, click here.

Morgan said the county has no way of counting how many Lynyrd Skynyrd fans have trekked to Clay County to visit these sites. “We are working on a way to do that,” she added.

The guide also notes the Clay County cemetery where Ronnie Van Zant was initially buried. In June 2000, vandals disturbed his casket and the cremated remains of bandmate Steve Gaines, who also died in the plane crash.

Van Zant’s unopened casket was found by Clay County deputies on the ground near the rear of a marble mausoleum on the northern edge of the cemetery grounds. The cemetery is near the Orange Park Mall on Blanding Boulevard.

A plastic bag containing Gaines’ remains was found nearby, according to media reports at the time.

Van Zant’s remains were relocated to a cemetery in Jacksonville. Gaines’ remains also were relocated to an undisclosed location. The grave sites of both band members remain as memorials for fans to visit.

“Today, visitors can still visit the old graves and pause for a moment of silence on an adjacent bench with an inscribed poem by musician Charlie Daniels donated as a tribute to his musical friends,” the guide says.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is currently on tour with lead singer Johnny Van Zant. To check out tour dates, click here.
Lynyrd Skynyrd band members Gary Rossington, Steve Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant.(Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage)
Singer Johnny Van Zant performs on April 27, 2019.(Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

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Veteran journalist with experience in website and newspaper content as an editor and writer. I have worked as a reporter at newspapers and websites in Florida, California and Arkansas. I am a former executive editor at the Tampa Bay Business Journal and worked for 12 years at The Tampa Tribune as an enterprise editor and business editor. At, I produced stories for 24 websites in the Tampa Bay area and also edited content for websites in six states.


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