Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage - Book Info
Jacksonville Architectural Heritage

Index of Mandarin Sites   References
Mandarin is the southernmost community in Duval County, located on a peninsula on the St. Johns River.  Records of civilization there date back to the Timucuan Indians.  Some historians speculate that the sixteenth-century Indian village of Thimagua was located on the present site of Mandarin, 1  which has had four different names since that time.  Although the Spanish developed a mission near Mandarin as early as 1683, British settlers were the first Europeans to reside there, arriving in 1765, two years after Britain obtained East Florida from Spain.  At that time a post office was established at St. Anthony, as Mandarin was then called.  In the spring of 1774, botanist William Bartram spent the night at the Marshall Plantation at St. Anthony and made a note of the cultivation of oranges and indigo, which were two of the main crops exported from East Florida at that time.  In 1783 Florida was returned to Spain, and St. Anthony was appropriately renamed  "San Antonio." 2 

Many settlers had received Spanish land grants and were operating farms at San Antonio when Florida was transferred to the United States in 1821.  For a brief time the village was renamed "Monroe," honoring American President James Monroe. Citrus farmer Calvin Read is credited with selecting the name ~"Mandarin" after the Mandarin orange grown in the area.  This present title was first officially registered as a U. S. Post Office in 1830.

The following decade brought many hardships to this small citrus community.  On February 8, 1835, the temperature in Mandarin dropped to seven degrees above zero, and the resulting freeze devastated the fruit groves.  Three years later, just as the groves were beginning to recover, an infestation of the orange coccus insect began an uncontrollable blight that greatly diminished citrus production until after the Civil War. Meanwhile, the upheavals of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) kept the citizens in a fearful vigil.  Of the several Indian raids on the village of Mandarin, the most bloody massacre occurred on December 20, 1841, when four people were killed and three houses burned.

As early as 1835, the steamboat Florida  made stops at Mandarin on its way from Savannah to Piccolata, transporting passengers and agricultural goods.  By 1841 Mandarin was incorporated as a town with a mayor and four aldermen, although sometime over the next century this incorporation was allowed to expire.  As the ill-effects of the Seminole War faded, Mandarin resumed its volume of trade.  Lumber, cotton, vegetables, and oranges were shipped to ports along the  Atlantic Coast.

The Civil War dealt a crippling blow to Mandarin's commerce, and the populace suffered because produce and livestock were taken for the Union troops.  Except for the sinking of three Union transport ships by Confederate torpedoes in the river channel off Mandarin Point during a forty-day period in 1864, little military activity occurred in the area.  After the war Northerners and English settlers moved into many of the long-neglected orange groves along the river at Mandarin.  They were lured by reports of the warm winter climate and an interest in becoming fruit growers.  The most famous of these new residents was Harriet Beecher Stowe, noted social reformer and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  She purchased a 30-acre orange grove and moved there in 1868, living in a cottage under two great, spreading oak trees.  She made several additions to the cottage, including a wide veranda, which had to be built around the trunk of one of the trees.  The house, which seemed to have "grown out of the tree," remained a popular attraction for sightseers until 1916 when it  was demolished.

Mrs. Stowe had a great impact on community life in Mandarin and on Florida as well.  She devoted much time to the social improvement of the recently freed slaves and  was instrumental in convincing the Freedman's Bureau to build a school for black children at Mandarin.  Her writings of the idyllic life in Florida received wide attention in the northern United States.  With the publication of her book of travel articles about Florida entitled Palmetto Leaves, Harriet Beecher Stowe became the state's most important publicist.
7 She dearly loved Mandarin, where she spent the winter months each year:  "We have around us a little settlement of neighbors, who like ourselves have a winter home here, and live an easy, undress, picnic kind of life, far from the world  and its cares." 8 

Leaders in Mandarin's religious life, Mrs. Stowe and her husband, Professor Calvin E. Stowe, helped organize and raise funds for an Episcopal Church in 1880.  The resulting "Church of Our Saviour" was designed by Jacksonville architects Ellis and McClure and was completed in 1883.  Due to the declining health of both herself and her husband, Harriet Beecher Stowe never returned to Mandarin after 1884.  Upon her husband's death in 1886, Mrs. Stowe requested that a memorial window be installed in the church in his honor.  Mrs. Stowe died in 1896, but the memorial window, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, was not installed until twenty years later.
9    The church, along with the beautiful window, was destroyed by Hurricane Dora in 1964.  A new church was built on the site, incorporating a similar design and most of the old windows and furnishings of the original church.

During Harriet Beecher Stowe's residence at Mandarin, the cultivation of oranges reached large-scale production.  Other crops, such as mulberries, pineapples, Irish potatoes, onions, tomatoes, beans, strawberries, and cucumbers, were also profitably raised there on numerous truck farms.  By 1881 the population of Mandarin had grown to 1200, only one-fourth of whom were white.
10  In January of 1886, a disastrous freeze stunted most of the fruit trees, but again the little citrus community was able to snap back.  Over 50,000 boxes of oranges were being shipped from Mandarin by 1891.  Eleven different steamboats made stops at the numerous wharves and packing houses along Mandarin's shore.  Then two more severe freezes in the winter of 1894-1895 and another in 1899 brought an end to citrus as Mandarin's major industry. 11

Mandarin remained in decline until after World War I, when it began its gradual growth as a residential community.  The opening of the Acosta Bridge in 1921 shortened the travel time to Jacksonville and further encouraged residential development.  The rural scenery and moss-draped oaks did much to promote the peaceful style of living in this Jacksonville suburb.  Following the opening of the Buckman Bridge in 1971, however, unbridled growth has altered Mandarin's tranquility.  Wave after wave of development has brought the destruction of many of its landmark buildings, making those that remain all the more valuable as reminders of Mandarin's  rich heritage.


1 Although various Indian burial sites have been found in the Mandarin area, the pinpointing of Mandarin as the site of a village called Thimagua may be an error of translation, perpetuated by George R. Fairbanks (pp.100-101), Gold (p.16), and Graff (p.1).  Fairbanks referred to Laudonniere's account of the
1564 French expedition in which he sailed twenty leagues up the St. Johns River to find "Thimagoa."  Apparently Fairbanks confused miles with leagues (which are roughly equal to three miles each).  Mandarin is approximately twenty miles from the mouth of the river.  Twenty leagues distance would have been south of present Green Cove Springs.  Charles Bennett points out in Three Voyages (p.73) that "Thimogoa" may not have been the name of a place but a general Indian term for "enemy."
Graff pp.viii, 1, 4-7.
Graff p.14;  Shepherd, "Historical - Mandarin" p.109.
Graff pp.16-25;  Acts of the Territorial Legislature 1841, No.10.
Graff pp.23, 28-32.
Davis p.135;  Graff pp.36, 40-46, 80.
Graff pp.50-53, 58;  Mandarin Weekly Advertiser, Feb. 23, 1979 pp.8-9.
Graff p.62.
Webb,W. p.187;  Graff pp.87-96, 98.
10  Webb p.187.
11  Graff pp.100-101.
12  Barrett pp.50-56.

For key to  references, see Bibliography.

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