History of Orange Park's Historic Clarke House
William Francis Clarke and his wife, Carrie Kellogg Clarke purchased the land on which the Clarke House sits in 1909. Mr. Clarke, a successful plumber in Jacksonville, started a second business here immediately thereafter. Clarke's Pecan Farm shipped pecans from this location far and wide, shipped by train in barrels at first and later in crates, stamped "Clarke Pecan Farm -- Orange Park, Florida."
Wanting his son, Bill to have the benefits of a rural upbringing, the family later constructed this home where they lived the remainder of their lives. There were other buildings on the property, now lost to time, which were used for the workers at the farm and for the business activities here.
William Clarke traveled back and forth on board the "May Garner," a small riverboat, to get to his plumbing business each work day. The family gathered animals including a cow, dogs and cats, chickens and ducks, goats, parrots, and even baby skunks on the property.
The house was built with an open floor plan hosting high interior ceilings including two bedrooms upstairs, each with its own bathroom. Mrs. Clarke took an active interest in local concerns, working for such causes as the First Baptist Church of Orange Park, Woman's Club, the Baptist Children's Home, and more. Mrs. Clarke shared her home for wedding receptions countless times with any young bride who needed it. Mr. Clarke became active in local politics and served on the Town Council and as Mayor in the late 1920's. During the Great Depression years, hungry neighbors could count on the Clarkes when food was scarce.
The Clarke's son, Bill, attended Stetson University where he met his future wife, Georgia Self. He became a Doctor of Chiropractic and practiced until the death of his father, when he took over his father's business and ran it until shortly before his death in 1943. Their family plumbing and mechanical business came to an end after almost 100 years in business.
The apartments once used by pecan farm workers became rental properties. In the mid 1940's, Mr. and Mrs. Keith Hayes rented one of these apartments while he worked down the street at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center (aka the Monkey Farm). Living with the couple was Viki, a chimpanzee who was being treated to a "human lifestyle". She enjoyed swinging through the Clarke Estate tress and calling residents on the Clarke's rotary telephone.
Carrie Clarke passed away on Aug. 1, 1979 at age 93. Mrs. Georgia S. Clarke continued to live in the Clarke House with her son, Walter Foxworth Clarke, until the Town of Orange Park purchased the remaining 15 acres in 1991. Walter currently lives in another city but comes back for special events. The house was sold to the town so that it would benefit its citizens and continue to bear the family name. The Clarkes, buried across the street in Magnolia Cemetery, were the only family to ever live in the house.
On July 15, 1998, The William Clarke Estate was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the efforts of Mary Ann Study, John Bowles and other future members of the historical society. The playground in front of the park was finished in 2000. Many repairs were needed for the house and it narrowly escaped demolition in 2002. The Historical Society of Orange Park was officially started in 2003, dedicated to preserving the history of the town as well as the house. The same year, two old rental buildings were torn down on the property to make way for parking near the playground.
Starting in 2004 the Town of Orange Park and the Historical Society of Orange Park have partnered to conduct an annual celebration called Carrie Clarke Day in March. Important town-sponsored repairs to the structure took place between 2007 and 2010, including the 2009 chimney repairs have made tours possible. The house stands as a symbol of old Orange Park, representing simple values and community spirit.
Published by the Historical Society of Orange Park 2012