New development in Green Cove Springs occupies the land where Lynyrd Skynyrd’s rehearsal studio stood.
If the oaks at the Edgewater Landing in Clay County could talk, they would tell the story of a rough-hewn cabin where legendary Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd sweated out some of its best music.
The gated residential development north of Green Cove Springs now occupies the land where the band’s early rehearsal studio, Hell House, once stood.
D.R. Horton is building homes on 158 lots at the site off Russell Road, just west of U.S. 17.
Families started moving into their new homes in July, said Wayne Lyle, spokesman for Elkay Developments, a real estate development company based in South Surrey, British Columbia.
Lyle, who once lived in Green Cove Springs and sold the land to D.R. Horton, heard a few stories himself from locals who grew up there in the early 1970s.
That’s when Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote most of its first two albums, which included “Free Bird,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“They told me they would crawl up on the train trestle and listen to the music through the trees,” Lyle said. “I’ve heard that from many people who lived in the area. Those trees have got some rock ’n’ roll in their bark.”
Edgewater Landing is near the train trestle on Peters Creek and still has the moss-draped oaks and cedar trees. But the cabin burned down many years ago.
The development includes a waterfront park, a 120-foot-long dock for fishing and launching kayaks, and a boat storage area. While it is just outside Green Cove Springs, the city is supplying the water, sewer and water reuse services.
The D.R. Horton homes in the front section of Edgewater Landing offer 16 floor plans priced from about $250,000 to $350,000. The Emerald Homes, the builder’s luxury-style homes, are closer to the creek. Those five floor plans range from roughly $300,000 to $400,000.
D.R. Horton didn’t buy 13 waterfront parcels along Peter’s Creek. They will be sold individually through a real estate agent for $249,000 each, Lyle said.
The cabin appealed to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s founder and lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, because it sat near the creek. An avid fisherman since he was a boy, Van Zant occasionally took breaks from rehearsals to fish there.
Van Zant and the band’s guitarist, Steve Gaines, were killed in a 1977 plane crash.
Another band member, Gary Rossington, talked about Hell House in a 2006 Rolling Stone interview, after the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He said they had to find a quiet place away from Jacksonville so the police would stop bothering them.
“We finally found this place way out in the woods, this cabin with a tin roof,” he said in the article. “We didn’t have the money to buy an air conditioner, so it was hot. We’d sweat and sweat, and when it rained it was double bad. … The owner was a real swamp boy. He’d go around and hit big rattlesnakes on the head, so we had a bunch of snakes in barrels. It was just a mess, but we got a lot of writing done there.”
Out of respect for the land’s history, the developers named some of Edgewater Landing’s streets after the band: Tuesday’s Cove, Free Bird Loop, Noble Court and Southern Oaks Drive.
Lyle said plans are to install a plaque to memorialize Hell House near the site of the cabin.
Developers also took pains to preserve the environmentally sensitive area, which Lyle describes as a “pristine wetland with 200-year-old oaks where water ebbs and flows.”
They preserved most of the trees, more than 50 acres of open space, and built very few back-to-back homesites, Lyle said.
“It isn’t just a beautiful piece of land but has a significant part in music history,” he said. We know it’s something that’s important to Jacksonville and to all music lovers.”