By Brett Nolan
When the Postmistress walked through the threshold of the Mandarin Store and Post Office early that morning, the horseshoe above the door must have still been sleeping; luck was not on her side. Miss Aggie, as she was affectionately known, had a foreboding sense that something was wrong — and she was right. The safe that was housing the valuable financials that backed the operations of this small-town business had been looted. After further investigation, it was discovered that robbers had crawled under the structure and cut a hole in the floor of the post office cage, like something out of a cartoon. While no one was hurt, the burglars stole nearly $500 that evening.
Another day in the life of rural Mandarin; however, even the occasional ill-starred happening could not dampen the joy that this old-timey storefront radiated in the community. The Mandarin Store and Post Office, at the corner of Mandarin and Brady roads, has been a pillar of the Mandarin neighborhood since 1911 and evokes “memories of small town and village general stores across America.”
The structure was built by William Monson, a well-known architect in the area, to replace the former store which faced the St. Johns River and received mail from steamboats. When steamship travel became more and more obsolete due to the increasingly popular emergence of the automobile, it made sense to have a store on Mandarin Road.
Walter Jones, whose name adorns the top of the façade, was the father of this facility, having been village postmaster since 1906. With a new store, Jones was in business for himself and began supplying most of the needs of the small population of Mandarin. Kids attending school in the schoolhouse next door, now the Mandarin Community Club, would enjoy candy and cold soda following a day of learning. On occasion, roaming pigs would chase the children looking for handouts as they neared the store.
It wasn’t until after his death in 1928 that Walter Jones’s daughter, Agnes “Miss Aggie” Jones, took over. A Mandarin matriarch, Miss Aggie and her store quickly became the hub of all village life. Whenever anyone wanted to spread word of an event, an old saying was that one could “Telephone, Telegram, or Tell Aggie.” The store was a gathering place for folks to get their mail, shop for groceries, listen to the radio, use the phone and keep up with local news.
All were welcomed by Miss Aggie and her sister Mamie, who helped her — including a horse who followed his kid-owner into the store one day. Aggie would close early once a week and Mamie would drive them up to Jacksonville to get produce as well as other supplies needed for the store. When the Mandarin School closed, and the building became the Mandarin Community Club, many children would wait outside for the school bus to pick them up.
During the 1950s, scenes for the movie “Under the Gun” were filmed in front of the Post Office. Only a decade later, with the growing Mandarin community, the Post Office was relocated to State Road 13 to accommodate a larger population. In 1964 the store was closed. Miss Aggie would store most of the records and other items in the barn at her home where she lived until her death in 1992. That homestead is now the Walter Jones Historical Park.
The Mandarin Store and Post Office building was restored by the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society with the help of a grant from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Displays include some of the original furnishings and other memorabilia. The building actually belongs to the Mandarin Community Club, but has been leased for 30 years to the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society so the organization can continue to share the stories of the building’s treasured past. Typically open on the first Saturday of each month, Miss Aggie and her legacy live on.
[Note: The Store and Post Office is closed currently due to COVID.]
Brett Nolan is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Visit www.mandarinmusem.net for more information about Mandarin’s history and museum schedules.
Photo courtesy Mandarin Museum & Historical Society
Mandarin Store and Post Office today.