Mandarin is best known to Jacksonville residents today as a center of suburban living, but its origins were as rural as it gets.
Mandarin’s beginnings can be traced back to the early 1800s as a farming village named Monroe. The village utilized its vast, fertile land along with its close proximity to the St. Johns River to become one of North Florida’s earliest successful port towns, exporting fruits and vegetables to Jacksonville and other towns along the river.
It was renamed in 1830 by one of its residents, a man named Calvin Reed. The name Mandarin was intended to pay homage to the area’s seemingly endless supply of mandarin orange trees.
In 1864, the area was home to a tragedy of war when Maple Leaf, an American ship, was sabotaged by Confederate troops from Clay County. The ship sunk and would take over 100 years to be fully recovered from the St. Johns.
Mandarin’s small farming village would be forever altered by the arrival of famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe in the late 1860s. Stowe, best known for penning the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, bought winter property in Mandarin and quickly fell in love with its scenic orange groves and old southern simplicity.
By 1872, Stowe had released Palmetto Leaves, a memoir that acts essentially as a travel guide for tourists looking to visit the Mandarin area. The book resulted in an onslaught of tourism to the region, with travelers seeking out the beautiful and exotic scenery described by Stowe.
Stowe was active in the Mandarin community for several years, helping to establish funding for multiple schools including one for African-American children.
In the late 1800s, a particularly rough winter killed off most of Mandarin’s famous orange trees. Farmers sold off their land to developers, and many who had already fallen in love with the area began purchasing houses.
For much of the early 20th century, Mandarin operated as a quaint southern town along the river. A general store and post office along Mandarin Road was operated for several decades by Walter Jones, who lived on a nearby piece of property. Jones was also the first president of the Mandarin Community Club, which launched in 1923. MCC is now responsible for maintaining Jones’ former general store, which is still standing and in use by Mandarin Museum & Historical Society.
In 1936, a school that Stowe commissioned and had closed a few years earlier was gifted to MCC as their headquarters.
Mandarin existed as its own town until 1968, when it became part of Jacksonville as a result of the city’s consolidation with Duval County.
Mandarin has since grown into one of Jacksonville’s most thoroughly developed suburban neighborhoods. But while it’s ventured far from its origins, elements of the past remain throughout the area.
Jones’ general store and his former property are still standing, with the latter being designated as Walter Jones Historical Park in his honor. And Mandarin Road’s modern asphalt surface still winds around the area’s historic oak trees.
If you’re hungry for more Mandarin history, check out the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society, which was established in 1989 to preserve the area’s historic elements.