CLARKE HOUSE

William and Carrie Clarke purchased this land in Orange Park so that their only son, young Bill, could grow up in the country. William owned and operated the Old Reliable Plumbing Company, the first in Jacksonville, established in 1869 by his father. The city was becoming congested and many, like the Clarkes, invested in land out of the hustle and bustle to plant a garden and enjoy the fresh air.

At first the family spent only weekends at the farm, camping out in one of the two shacks near the narrow dirt road that stretched out towards the city limits. With the help of hired hands they started a kitchen garden and began preparing the land to plant pecan trees. Neighbors came calling and William and Bill soon knew where to go for the best hunting and fishing.

They had an architect draw plans for a two-story barn and midway into construction, decided they wanted to move to Orange Park. So bathrooms with flush toilets were installed and the kitchen and baths had running water, hot and cold. Most folks in Orange Park were still using privies and if they had running water inside it still had to be heated on the stove. Only young Bill missed the shed where he reclined in bed and shot rats off the rafters.

William commuted daily by automobile into Jacksonville to tend to the thriving plumbing business. The road to town went along the river in Orange Park to Duval County through the remains of Mulberry Grove Plantation, past the National Guard's Camp Johnson and the developing Venetia and Ortega areas. It was a long trip and the road dwindled into dusty quicksand mires or sucking mud holes depending on the weather.

Bill rode horseback to the nine-grades school on the corner of McIntosh and Smith streets. When the time came, he hitched a ride with his dad to Duval High School in Jacksonville. To get home in time for chores and to seeing his friends, he rode back to Orange Park on the river boat, May Garner.

Carrie and chief hand Robert Jacobs tended the pecan trees. Irrigation was critical from June to mid-August when the nuts fill out or else the nuts will be stunted and the hard exterior hull will not shed properly. October was frantic with harvesting and packing. The nuts were shipped by train in barrels, later in crates. They arrived wordwide stamped, "Clarke Pecan Farm - Orange Park, Florida."

Both William and Carrie were generous public servants. William was a valuable member of the town commission and served as mayor. His advice in finance and business was always respected and saved a few from financial ruin when the depression hit.

Carrie started the First Baptist Church with Sunday school on her front porch in 1921. She finagled the land for the first sanctuary at a country bankruptcy sale for a bid of $1. For years, no young girl, regardless of her families financial straights, was married without a nice reception at the Clarke home.

William was admired, respected and a great friend. Carrie was loved. It is said that where she walked, flowers and people grew. Whatever the reason, Orange Park is lucky they came. They are buried in Magnolia cemetery.

That one son, Bill, continued his education at Stetson University where he met Georgia Self, whom later he would marry. Young Bill became a Doctor of Chiropractic and practiced a short time. Following the death of his father, he took over his father's long established plumbing and mechanical business and ran it shortly before his death. After 94 years of successful operation, their plumbing and mechanical business came to an end. Mrs. Georgia S. Clarke continued to live on the property with one of her sons, Walter, until the town purchased the remaining 15 acres in 1991. Both Bill and Georgia Clarke are buried across the street from the Clarke House Park in the town-owned Magnolia Cemetery.

The house was added to the Register for Historic Homes in 1998. thanks to the efforts of Mary Anne Study, a former member of this society. Its previous pecan grove worker's houses were rented out for years, including to Yerkes researchers and one of the apes who used to swing freely through the park's trees.

Author Unknown