The Mandarin Museum & Historical Society began in 1989 by a group of citizens concerned about the loss of historical structures in Mandarin and were interested in preserving and celebrating the rich heritage and history of the area.
The first major project conducted by the organization was restoring the 1911 Mandarin Post Office and Walter Jones General Store, which served as the heart of the community until it closed in 1964. In 1998, the Mandarin Post Office & Store was reopened to the public as a museum exhibiting artifacts that illustrated the role of the general store and post office as a social and commercial hub for the Mandarin community. In 2001, the building was listed on the National Register of Historical Places and earned a designation as a local landmark by the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission.
An even greater opportunity for the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society to preserve the local heritage began in 1993, when the City of Jacksonville was offered the Walter Jones homestead for purchase. Walter Jones, and later his daughter Agnes, owned and served as postmaster at the Mandarin Post Office & Store. The Jones family had lived and worked on the property since 1904. In 2000, the city opened the 11-acre Walter Jones Historical Park, the first historical park in Jacksonville’s extensive park system. The riverfront park included an 1875 homestead farmhouse, barn, and outbuildings, as well as an interpretive reconstruction of the Mandarin boardwalk that was a fixture of community in the late 19th century.
The city approached the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society to provide programs that would incorporate the historic structures and to “breathe life into the park.” It was later proposed that a new community museum be built in the park to house the museum’s collection. A cooperative partnership was formalized between the city and the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. Under the agreement, the city would own and maintain the buildings and grounds within the park, while the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society would be licensed to operate in the park and to produce public programs. In 2004, the Mandarin Museum was opened with two galleries, an administration office, and a small archives room.
Since the opening of the museum, the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society has enhanced the original exhibits so visitors can explore some of the people and events that shaped the Mandarin community from the area’s early history as a Timucua village site to the mid 20th century. Featured exhibits include the wreck of the Civil War steamboat Maple Leaf (the only National Historic Landmark in Duval County) and renowned writer Harriet Beecher Stowe’s life in Mandarin. The museum also boasts a museum shop, the Mandarin archives, and an art gallery that exhibits the works of famed local artists such as Memphis Wood and Charlie Brown.
The Mandarin Museum & Historical Society also acquired other historic structures to add to the park. These include an early 20th century saw mill and a late 19th century log cabin belonging to the Losco family and which was part of the largest wine operation in Northeast Florida. The organization also created a historical kitchen garden based on the writings of Stowe and started a citrus grove that demonstrate the types of fruit that were grown when Mandarin was a major citrus producer.