Much of what you see in the park today was left by Mr. Owen D. Young and his wife, Louise. Mr. Young bought the property in 1937 and they enjoyed it for many years as a winter retreat. Mr. Young helped found the RCA Corporation and became chairman of the board of the General Electric Co. in 1922. Mrs. Young donated the property to the state of Florida in 1964 following the death of Mr. Young.
Home on the River
In 1936, the land known today as Washington Oaks Gardens State Park was bought and given to Louise Powis Clark by her husband, Mr. Owen D. Young. Clark was a designer from New York and Young was an attorney and industrialist who had been chairman of the board of General Electric Corporation and RCA. He also advised the federal government on international monetary issues and was named 1929 Time Magazine "Man of the Year." The house, built in 1938, became a winter retirement home for Clark and Young.
Native Americans once used the water's edge as a rich food source. Hundreds of years later, the Youngs built their house facing the Matanzas River. Young would spend time relaxing by the water's edge with a pole in hand while watching the boats cruise up and down the river, also known as the Intracoastal Waterway.
Historic Rose Garden
The Youngs were responsible for the name Washington Oaks, as well as the design of the gardens and the house. They combined native and exotic plantings, even adding touches from Asia, where both had spent time. The Youngs gradually acquired the beachfront property from neighbors. Throughout the 1940s and '50s, children and grandchildren enjoyed extended vacations here. In 1962, Mr. Young died and shortly before her death in 1965, Mrs. Young gave most of the land to the state of Florida. She specified that the gardens be maintained in their present form and expanded as funds became available.
The Washington Oak, estimated to be between 200 and 300 years old, has withstood the test of time. The live oak tree is one of Florida's oldest and sturdiest trees, able to withstand hurricane-force winds, fires, droughts and floods. The enormous tree at the center of the gardens provides shade and beauty for thousands of park visitors.
Mrs. Young donated this land to the state of Florida just before her death in 1965, requesting that the state maintain the property in its current form and improve upon the gardens as funds became available. The park has sought to remain faithful to this wish as changes become necessary. An example is the fountain that once stood in the center of one of the ponds. Although this particular fountain no longer stands, in keeping with Mrs. Young's wishes, it has been replaced by another.