By Sandy Arpen

It is hard to believe that the Mandarin Museum and all the historical buildings in Walter Jones Historical Park have been closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus. Initially, the City of Jacksonville ordered the closure of the entire park and all programs. As time went on, the park reopened, and small groups were allowed to obtain permits for activities at the picnic pavilion; however, Mandarin Museum & Historical Society’s board of directors decided to remain closed for three reasons: First, it is a volunteer organization and the majority of the volunteers are at higher risk of COVID complications; second, the board does not feel it is safe to put people together in small closed spaces yet; and third, the building of the new museum addition and the total transformation of all exhibit spaces is going to take months to accomplish.

The expansion of Mandarin Museum by R. G. White Construction was expected to begin in the summer, but it should be underway by January. 

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Here is a “sneak peek” at what attendees will see when the museum is reopened — with more Mandarin stories than ever before. The board and volunteers have been working hard and safely behind the scenes dismantling the old exhibits, while researching all the new topics and creating new text, as well as creating and building new display panels.

One of the new exhibits in the main exhibit room will be “The Untold History of Black Mandarin.” The stories of Mandarin’s fascinating Black history are very important because the population was significant in size and it was critical to Mandarin’s development over time. Also, the Harriet Beecher Stowe exhibit will be enlarged and enhanced due to her very important contributions to the area. 

Other topics displayed will include: a new timeline; our first residents (the Timucua); early days of the Spanish and English; 19th Century territorial and statehood period; the Seminole War in Mandarin; the Mandarin Boardwalk and historic homes; steamboats; A Soldier’s Story (Marion Losco); schools; recreation (like the Little Train, Orange Pickers baseball team, horse activities, and Mandarin Players); 20th Century landmarks and residents; a map of pre-1970 San Jose Boulevard depicting local businesses; and a display called “What Happened to Rural Mandarin?” All these stories will be told with lots of interesting photos, documents and objects from our collection

The National Historic Landmark shipwreck the “Maple Leaf” will not be forgotten. This important Civil War story and artifacts will be in an expanded and unique space of its own — the new addition that is being built just for it. A special room for the “Maple Leaf” will make this important story much more cohesive.

The Art Gallery will be revived with some of the fabulous art the museum has of Mandarin artists and Mandarin scenes, like Memphis Wood, Charlie Brown, Lee Adams, Brenda Councill, C. Ford Riley, Harold Hilton, James Freeman, Lucinda Halsema, James Turnbull, John Kenning, Gary Garrett and Cheryl Rood. 

Finally, the very small archival space that houses the museum’s collection will be doubled in size. When the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society first opened the Mandarin Museum at the park in 2004, it had a much smaller collection of items than today and the space has been outgrown. In this new space, the museum’s team of “archive” volunteers will receive, catalog and safely store all items that have been donated to the museum.

This project has been made possible by the generosity of many: numerous private donors (including Donald Bowden who designated 60 percent of Mandarin Frog sales to the expansion), as well as the Rotary Club of Mandarin, Bhide & Hall Architects, City of Jacksonville, Exxon/Mobil Matching Fund, Jacksonville Maritime Museum, and Thrivent Financial. The museum was also fortunate to qualify for a Facilities Grant which is sponsored by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of the Arts & Culture and the State of Florida. 

Follow the progress on the Mandarin Museum Facebook page, where the reopening date will be announced as soon as the expansion project is complete and it is safe to do so.

Sandy Arpen is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. The Mandarin Museum is located at 11964 Mandarin Road in Walter Jones Historical Park. Visit for more information about Mandarin’s history and Mandarin Museum & Historical Society information.


Photo courtesy Mandarin Museum and Historical Society
The Mandarin Museum, 11964 Mandarin Road.

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