By Brett Nolan
On Loretto Road sits a house that exemplifies the rural charm of Mandarin. It is a simple home with “strong vertical character” that dates back to the turn of the century – built in 1907 (Wayne Wood, “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage,” 1989). Originally, it featured “a two-tier veranda, which wrapped around to the right side of the house” (Wood, 1989). While most historic homes in the area have been constructed during the 19th Century, this building denotes “an important link to Mandarin’s architecture” (Wood, 1989).
Shortly after getting married in 1906, this house, on 25 acres of land, was built for Fleming H. Bowden and his growing family. Bowden had many different occupations during his life and was a very prominent figure around the area. He was a blacksmith, working out of his barn behind the house, and a vegetable peddler. Riding around Mandarin in his horse-drawn wagon, Bowden would spend the day going to various truck farms (small farms with the intentions of growing crop solely for the market) and buy produce to be hauled up to Jacksonville (Wood, 1989).
According to “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage” (1989), after loading up his wagon with vegetables and other fruits in the afternoon, the trek to the River City was done at night. Bowden would sleep at the reins of his horses as they traveled down a “long sandy road.” Waking up by the clatter of the brick pavement was how he knew he arrived to his destination in South Jacksonville (part of the present day San Marco area, this used to be its own town, much like Mandarin in the mid-1800s) to catch the ferry into downtown. I can only assume that this long sandy road referred to is present day San Jose Boulevard and Hendricks Avenue…how times have changed.
In 1921, with the opening of the St. Johns River Bridge, Bowden bought a couple of Model-T Fords to make the journey a little easier. It is said he was one of the first to own a car in Mandarin. His most noteworthy job was serving as the Duval County Supervisor of Elections for 21 years until his death in 1964 (Wood, 1989).
Fleming Bowden had seven children, all of whom were born in this house. In speaking with Suzanne Bowden Hardison, one of Bowden’s grandchildren, she explained that her father, Upton Bowden, one of the Bowden seven, would hide in “secret closets” in the house when being babysat by his two sisters. His sisters would be in a panic thinking they lost him during their watch — a classic sibling prank.
Bowden’s granddaughter described him as a very friendly man. Outside of his life as a public servant, the hobby he was most fond of was farming. He was not one to shy away from working in the dirt, hand tilling the ground to help the citrus trees grow on his land. Some of his equipment he used is on display in the 1876 Barn in Walter Jones Historical Park.
Today, this home and land is currently up for sale. Like with most houses that are more than 100 years old, this place needs a little tender loving care. It is buildings like this that make Mandarin, Mandarin. Surrounded by huge pecan trees and bordered by a classic white wooden fence, this home and the rest of our historic farmhouses give our community our identity — deserving our utmost attention in preserving them for generations to come.
Brett Nolan is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Visit www.mandarinmuseum.net for more information about Mandarin’s history.
Photo courtesy Mandarin Museum & Historical Society
The Bowden house.