By Brett Nolan
“Well, come on inside and getcha’ self something cool to drink,” would have probably been an all too common phrase bellowed off the top of John C. Brown’s two-tiered veranda facing Mandarin Road; it was a warm southern invite to combat the oppressive heat of Florida, as Mandarinites played croquet under the shade of the stately, moss draped, oak trees on their riverfront lawns.
This house was constructed in 1880 on the site of his family’s former home which his father, John P. Brown, had built when he was just 16 years old — two years after moving to Mandarin from New York in 1828. After marrying Nancy Bowden, age 17, in 1835 (Bowden is another notable Mandarin name), John P. and his wife had six children. All of the children were born in the same house between 1835 and 1850 when their youngest son, Thomas, was born. This earned the Brown family the great distinction of being one of the “First Families” in the town of Mandarin.
John C., the oldest of his siblings, was a citrus grower and from 1875 to 1879, he was postmaster. This was during the time when the St. Johns River was the Interstate 95 for Northeast Florida. All mail and other consumer goods were delivered by steamship, making a stop at water’s edge in front of the village store and post office, at the end of Store Lane. John C. Brown was the curator of all store operations. A single road marker still stands at the corner of Mandarin Road and Store Lane as a faint memory of the Mandarin store’s original location.
The 1911 Store and Post Office across the street reminds us that Mandarin was a growing rural community advancing to life on the roads, no longer the river. It was after John C. retired as postmaster that he built his grand estate. A century later, the John C. Brown house was deemed dangerously close to an increasingly busy Mandarin Road. The then-occupants can remember finding blood one morning where paramedics had treated a victim from a car accident on their front porch. The owners moved the house farther back on the property behind the tree line, keeping the historical integrity of the home well intact.
After 140 years the Brown house still retains some of the original jigsaw trim. The architecturally significant structure stands as a reminder of one of the area’s most prominent families. Famed Mandarin potter and artist Charles M. “Charlie” Brown was a grandson of John C. Brown.
Information for this article was taken from “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage” by Wayne Wood, “Mandarin on the St. Johns” by Mary B. Graff, an article by Beverly Fleming from the April 15, 1993 “Mandarin News,” and Ancestry.com.
Brett Nolan is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Visit www.mandarinmuseum.net for more information on Mandarin’s history and museum schedules.
Photo courtesy Brett Nolan
The Brown Residence