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. 3
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. 4
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. 5
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. 6
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. 12
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."
2 Graff pp.viii, 1, 4-7.
3 Graff p.14; Shepherd, "Historical - Mandarin"
4 Graff pp.16-25; Acts of the Territorial
Legislature 1841, No.10.
5 Graff pp.23, 28-32.
6 Davis p.135; Graff pp.36, 40-46, 80.
7 Graff pp.50-53, 58; Mandarin Weekly Advertiser,
Feb. 23, 1979 pp.8-9.
8 Graff p.62.
9 Webb,W. p.187; Graff pp.87-96, 98.
10 Webb p.187.
11 Graff pp.100-101.
12 Barrett pp.50-56.
key to references, see Bibliography.