By Brett Nolan
This month, let’s go back in time to when a local house museum was once home to one of the largest citrus farms in Mandarin. Let’s go back in the late 19th Century to the Major William Wirt Webb Farmhouse. After growing up in New York, serving in the Union army as a general and after many years of service well beyond the Civil War, Webb was discharged from the military after an eye injury. This injury led Webb to purchase 30 acres of land for a farm in Mandarin along the St. Johns River. In 1875 this house was built along with a barn and 1000-foot wharf for produce shipment from his farm to steam boats via the river. The retired major even had a wooden railroad track built on this dock, so his produce could be rolled out to the ships instead of hauled by horse and wagon. On his land, he grew oranges, potatoes, cucumbers, beans and strawberries. Webb sold 10 acres (mostly where the Mandarin Presbyterian Church is today) to one of his friends in 1878.
Working with Calvin and Harriet Beecher Stowe to establish the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour right down the road, he was very active in the community of Mandarin. Major Webb died in 1893 and 20 acres of his homestead were then bought by Walter Jones in 1902. Webb, his wife Clara and other family members are buried in Mandarin Cemetery.
Jones was an immigrant from England who served as Postmaster and ran the Mandarin Store and Post Office, located at the corner of Mandarin and Brady roads. He and his wife, Edith, moved into the farmhouse in the early 1900s and raised a family of seven. This home stayed in the Jones family for the majority of the 20th Century. In 1993, the descendants of Walter Jones sold 10 acres of Major Webb’s original land to the City of Jacksonville to make the city’s first Historical Park, protecting it from any future infamous Mandarin developments.
Since its opening in 2000, the home has been restored to its original early 20th century appearance and stands as an excellent example of local historic preservation. Today, you can see and tour the home thanks to the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. You can learn more about Major Webb and his time in Mandarin in Bob Nay’s book, “I Am a Full-Fledged Floridian Now,” offered at the museum gift shop.
Brett Nolan is a volunteer with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Visit www.mandarinmuseum.net to learn more about Mandarin’s history.
Photo courtesy Brett Nolan
The Webb Farmhouse