Brief History of the Town of Orange Park

Florida-Winter-Home-Improvement-Company

Map of the Florida Winter Home and Improvement Companies Lands, 1884

The Town of Orange Park was founded in 1877 by the Florida Winter Home and Improvement Company, with owners and trustees predominantly from Boston, Massachusetts. As a direct result of hard times following the Civil War, the old “McIntosh” plantation at Laurel Grove was in shambles and changed hands several times. After purchasing several thousand acres of property in the area, the Florida Winter Home and Improvement Company created a new town and called it Orange Park! The property was subdivided into building lots and small farm tracts, and the present street system was laid out which included Kingsley Avenue, River Road and Plainfield Avenue. To enhance the sale of the property that was marketed up north, many lots were planted in Orange Trees, a cash crop even in those days. Two years later, following a local referendum, the Town was incorporated by a Special Act of the Florida Legislature in 1879. A large hotel was built at the foot of Kingsley Avenue, along with a 1200 foot wooden pier which extended well into the river and could accommodate steamboats which attracted the northern tourist trade.

Clark House in Orange Park Florida

The Clark House in Orange Park Florida

The Town has roots back to the 1780’s and 90’s during the second Spanish period in Florida history. At that time, Orange Park was known as “Laurel Grove”, a name that was given by Sarah and William Pengree who had received a land grant from the Spanish Governor. Following William’s death, the farm and plantation at Laurel Grove fell into disrepair until it was sold to a young energetic planter by the name of Zephaniah Kingsley. Beginning in 1803, Kingsley established his plantation at Laurel Grove and developed it into a model farming operation that flourished over the next 10 years.

As a young United States began to grow, it flexed its’ military muscle along the Spanish border which was also the Georgia frontier. By a secret act passed by the U.S. Congress, President Monroe was authorized to bring Spanish Florida under United States control. By the summer of 1813, General Matthews, using volunteers and the Georgia Militia, invaded Spanish East Florida which triggered the “Patriots Rebellion”. Reluctant at first, Kingsley and other wealthy planters along the St. Johns River joined the short lived revolt against Spanish authority. Several weeks later, Matthews and his volunteers vacated East Florida and Laurel Grove Laurel Grove was burned to the ground by Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, wife of Zephaniah, to keep it out of the patriots hands. She then led Spanish authorities to her Mandarin home to destroy it as well.

Since those early days, Orange Park has grown dramatically and has developed as the northeastern gateway to Clay County. Commerce and business has flourished, not only in the Town, but in the greater Orange Park area as well. The Town and its government have continued to make a wide variety of improvements in an effort to meet the demands of its citizens and residents. The new Town Hall built in 1995 is a tribute to the Town of Orange Park and stands as an outstanding example of the character of residents and the farsightedness of those who call Orange Park home.