By Brett Nolan
High on the bluffs of the mighty St. Johns sits one of Mandarin’s oldest riverfront homes. The William King residence, built in 1873, is an architectural gem. For many Americans back in the day, one of the draws to Florida was the health benefits from the sun. Refugees from up north would move to the Sunshine State hoping to ease the pain of their various ailments, including First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln who came to Jacksonville in 1874 to aid with her arthritis. Long-neglected orange groves lined the shores of the river resulting in many Northerners lured to Mandarin for the warm climate and interest in making a living from cultivating citrus.
William King, like many settlers in Mandarin, followed suit, moving from New Jersey hoping to cure his rheumatism; prescription: the Florida sun. King was fortunate enough to be the neighbor of winter residents Harriet Beecher and Calvin Stowe. The Stowes had a huge impact in Mandarin. As author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — the book President Lincoln described as the catalyst to the Civil War — many would journey by boat to get a peek at her orange grove and house. While the Stowes’ property was demolished in 1916, the King residence still stands to tell their stories, as the Stowes probably walked the halls of the King house regularly.
A boardwalk stretching a mile in length connected these two homes, along with other properties, to the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, a church the Stowes helped found. King was a philanthropist; he built a dock along with a spacious waiting room, which was welcomed by passengers who previously had to dodge rain by huddling in boxes and barrels under the warehouse porch. As soon as the dock was complete, King’s carriage horse, Charlie, tested its strength without hesitation or trouble. In the cupula of the waiting room, a large bell would alert the arrival of all steamers with a tolling that could be heard two miles away. King also experimented with mulberries; this plant had not grown in the area since 1839. He shipped them to Jacksonville with a trial shipment to New York City; however, the Mandarin mulberry industry did not last long. William King’s health was cited restored, but a rainstorm proved fatal and by 1882, that weather exposure caused the return of his “old malady” and he passed away shortly after.
Over a century later, the house still stands with its features largely unchanged. A large veranda faces the river, which was the road back then; a central gable with arched windows stands as the home’s most distinctive feature. Many of the wood detailing on the house showcases a very formal presence not found in many of the other old Mandarin residences. The King house has been privately owned since the 1960s.
[Information for this article was taken from “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage” by Wayne Wood and “Mandarin on the St. Johns” by Mary B. Graff.]
Brett Nolan is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Visit www.mandarinmuseum.net for more information about Mandarin’s history.
Photo courtesy Gordon Blackmer
The King residence (1959).