In 1854, “White Sulfur Springs” was the name of the first development attempted by David Palmer and Sarah Ferris, in 1866 was renamed “Green Cove Springs” including establishment of the first Post Office, and later became the County Seat of Clay County in 1871. On November 2, 1874, the Town of Green Cove Springs officially incorporated. Live Oak harvesting was the major industry during this period.
During the late 1880’s, the town experienced great prosperity as evidenced by the large number and quality of hotels constructed near the spring and surrounding area. The medicinal qualities of the spring and tropical climate of the area during the winter months made Green Cove Springs a popular vacation destination. Because of its prominence, it earned recognition as “The Saratoga of the South”, “The Parlor City” and “Watering Hole for the Rich”. Tourists and visitors journeyed along the St. Johns River from Jacksonville by Riverboats. Northern visitors enjoyed the warm climate of the community and the medicinal qualities of the Spring during the winter months staying at several hotels like “The Cherokee”, and The Clarendon”. The accommodations of these hotels were comparable to famous hotels in cities like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.
Green Cove Springs is the birthplace of Charles E. Merrill (1885–1956), one of the founders of Merrill, Lynch & Company. The town's spring is described by his son James Merrill in the poem "Two From Florida", published in The Inner Room (1988).