Elizabeth Starke: The Wonderwood Belle

This article was written and contributed by Johnny Woodhouse. 

 

LizHorse

Wonderwood by the Sea, her 375-acre estat in East Mayport, eventually grew to more than 20 buildings, including the Ribault Inn, a lodge and dining facility. Her two-story, white stucco manor that overlooked Ribault Bay was known as “Miramar,” which means sea view in Spanish.

 Wonderwood By the Sea featured a 1,000-foot fishing pier, riding stables, a swimming pool, ball fields and an artificial lake. It was once the setting for a 1916 silent film. That same year, Stark was credited with organizing the first Girl Scout Troop in the Jacksonville area, Cherokee Rose Troop 1, made up mostly of girls from Mayport. During World War I, the Girl Scout troop played an active role in civil defense by patrolling local beaches on horseback.

In the ensuing years, Stark hosted numerous dignitaries at Wonderwood by the Sea, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. Senator Duncan Fletcher, Baron and Baroness DeWitt of Denmark, Colonel William Gaspard of France, and Jacksonville Mayor John Alsop.

Many of these prominent guests came to Wonderwood By the Sea as a result of her brother, Herman Hoffman Philip, an American diplomat and a former Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt.

Wonderwood

But in 1940, life at Wonderwood by the Sea – and for Mayport as a whole – changed forever when the U.S. government waged an eminent domain battle for Stark’s land.

In 1926, Stark’s properties were worth an estimated $2 million. In 1940, the U.S. government offered her less than $40,000.

When Stark refused to leave, U.S. Marines forcibly occupied the Ribault Inn and later carried her out of her home tied to a chair. With her government settlement, Stark purchased 30 acres of undeveloped property south of the base, off what is now Pioneer Drive. She dubbed her new home Wonderwood Estates.

Stark spent her remaining years there until her death in 1967 at age 91. Once the belle of many official balls, she died alone and penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Pablo Cemetery. Her husband, Jacob, a former prizefighter, preceded her in 1956.

In 1975, the Beaches Neighborhood of Girl Scouts, spearheaded by Brownie Troop 446, raised funds to mark her final resting place with a pink granite headstone etched with the Girl Scouts emblem. In 2010, the Mayport Civic Association recognized Stark’s memorable contributions to the historic fishing village with an additional marker at the foot of her modest grave.