Like Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol,” the Florida House Inn has its spirits, too.
The spirits of many Christmases past. The clock has struck midnight on 152 Christmas eves at this historic inn, circa 1857.
“A Christmas Carol” was first printed during the early Victorian era in Britain, in December 1843, just 14 years before the Florida House was built. It’s not a stretch to say that an original cloth-bound edition of Dickens’ iconic Christmas story could have sat on a bedside table at this Florida inn, known as a hotel a long time ago.
The inn is said to be Florida’s “oldest surviving hotel.” Just imagine “if these walls could talk.” Fascinating history would gush out. The hotel pre-dates the Civil War. James Buchanan was President the year this hotel was built for David Yulee’s railroad workers. During the Civil War, Union soldiers occupied the hotel. Notorious guests include President Ulysses S. Grant, early film stars such as Laurel & Hardy, Henry Ford, and members of America’s elite families, the Rockefellers and Carnegies.
Just in time for the Christmas holidays, the Florida House Inn is once again welcoming visitors across its threshold after many months of renovations. There are 16 rooms ready for overnight guests. The quaint English-style pub will serve drinks to guests and the public.
Now, with the inn’s reopening, present and future spirits will flow from the pub (and some say linger around the inn on occasion.)
Once again, the 8 flags representing those who have laid claim to Amelia Island (“the Isle of 8 Flags”), are displayed from the second story porch. The inn looks distinguished with its freshly painted green exterior. Christmas wreaths hang in the red trimmed windows, each with a candle on the sill. Poinsettias line the stairs up to the front doors. (Pictured, Florida House Inn, December 2, 2010).
The Florida House Inn has had “…A Wonderful Life,” providing southern comfort and sustenance to travelers through its long history. Just like the Capra film’s George Bailey, past innkeepers (and no doubt, folks who stayed there), experienced hardships along the journey. Its past includes operating as a saloon hotel, brothel, and boarding house. It provided hospitality during tumultuous times in history — the war between the states, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. In more recent times, the inn was showing her age, and former innkeepers fell into foreclosure during the “Great Recession,” with the inn closing in January 2010.
But now the guest book is open again, with new owner and innkeepers, the Saltmarsh family, ready to welcome visitors. Even if you don’t need a room at the inn this December, stop by the Florida House Inn (904-451-3722) located at 22 South 3rd Street in Fernandina’s historic district just off Centre Street. Enjoy bar libations during the holiday season, and make a toast to this “Grande Old Dame,” a Fernandina Beach landmark.
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