By the 1920s, the population and economic health of Orange Park were in a severe decline. The fickle tourist trade had dwindled and died. The burgeoning orange industry crashed when the freezes of …
By the 1920s, the population and economic health of Orange Park were in a severe decline. The fickle tourist trade had dwindled and died. The burgeoning orange industry crashed when the freezes of 1895-96 killed every grove to the roots. The final straw was the demise of the town’s American Missionary Society’s noble dream to educate the children of former slaves. Things were looking bad.
Then, unbeknownst to locals, The Loyal Order of Moose, a fraternal and service organization, founded in 1888, entered the picture. They were already praised for the creation of a thriving home for the orphans of Moose members in Illinois known as Mooseheart.
The organization began the search for a place where their brothers and family members who were returning from the trenches of World War I unable to cope and adapt to the fast-paced rollicking, roaring twenties and all the cultural changes the period introduced. For some it also seemed their health had been broken and dealing with the harsh northern winters had become impossible.
Leadership immediately began looking for a site to create a similar program to provide a slower paced way of life in a healthier climate that allowed the men, some with wives, an opportunity to contribute and thrive. It was anticipated that the project would be self-supporting.
For two years, various delegations of obviously successful northern men arrived in their three-piece suits with ornate watch chains draping considerable abdomens. Rumors were in the air in Clay County.
The original contingent of Moosehaven residents arrived in a band of 21 on a rainy day in November of 1922 and settled into the Marion Hotel complex and the adjoining 18 acres on the north side of Kingsley Avenue at River Road. Moosehaven records indicate a lease-purchase agreement with local developer Charles Brown that stipulated a deposit of $4,000, rent of $150 a month for two years with the option to purchase for $30,000 during that time.
After six months of operation, the residents were 54 strong and they were doing all the work. They cared for a growing dairy operation, which provided all of their requirements for milk and eggs with some left over to sell to townspeople. They raised fodder for the cows and other livestock.
For the struggling residents of Orange Park, it was a blessing to see people coming into town for a change and the newcomer proved to be a good neighbor.
Moosehaven guaranteed one half of the pre-subscriptions required to bring electric and telephone service from Jacksonville in 1924. The town simply would not have qualified without their participation.
To maintain insurance for their multiplying acquisitions at a reasonable cost, Moosehaven purchased the town’s first fire engine and paid the Orange Park Woman’s Club to cater luncheons and dinners at the frequent visits by national Moose delegations and the national convention held in Orange Park. Proceeds from these events helped pay for their clubhouse and financed school and community projects.
Moosehaven provided homemade ice cream for the monthly birthday party celebrations for community children held in their solarium and supervised by the Woman’s Club. For children raised in the Great Depression in Orange Park, memories of parties in the glass room became a special treasure.
The leadership of Loyal Order of Moose demonstrated a remarkable ability to anticipate and successfully adapt to change in needs of their membership and the community.