With lovely Victorian-era architecture, step back in time to the simpler days of yesteryear in Fernandina Beach. This historic seaport city is, indeed, quintessential small-town coastal living. (Photo gallery slideshow of Fernandina’s downtown historic district and Fernandina Harbor Marina, click on images to slow down).
Fernandina Beach holds claim to the oldest existing lighthouse, the oldest continually operating drinking establishment, and the oldest hotel in Florida and is home to one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in America, Fort Clinch.
FERNANDINA HISTORIC DISTRICT ON NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
Fernandina’s downtown historic district features 400-plus historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Gaze at historic homes, churches, and commercial buildings. The downtown has been preserved like a Victorian time capsule, providing a glimpse of small-town, yesteryear Florida. Visitors can hop aboard a trolley for a riding tour of key attractions. Or enjoy a narrated horse drawn carriage ride through the historic district, romantic for couples and also fun for families.
Be sure to also visit the Amelia Island Museum of History or take guided tours of the historic district with museum docents (including a “Pub Crawl” to enjoy “Happy Hour History” with a drink at four historic pubs). You can also take a fun ghost tour to explore island haunts, or take a self-guided walking tour (just pick up a tour map at the Tourist Information Center near the Fernandina harbor at the Old Train Depot). The Amelia Island Museum, antique shops, art galleries, fine dining options, casual eateries and pubs are all within walking distance when downtown.
Representatives of the Smithsonian Institute have visited, describing local life in Fernandina Beach as “one of the best examples of small town living in the U.S.” The National Trust for Historic Preservation has honored Fernandina Beach previously for its historic preservation. In fact, the Victorian-era seaport made the National Trust’s list of “12 top vacation destinations in the United States for historic preservation.” (Read related article, Historic Streetscape: Fernandina’s “Main Street” Called Centre.”)
You’ll marvel at some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture on the eastern seaboard. Just wander down sidewalks off the main corridor of Centre Street in Fernandina Beach to see enchanting, historic homes. Gracious Queen Annes, shaded by ancient oaks draped in moss, charming Victorian cottages and bungalows, and sweeping verandahs. Various architectural styles were fashionable during the Victorian era, in the 1850 to 1910 period. (Read feature article about Hoyt House, one of Fernandina’s fabulous homes, circa 1905).
Visit the Palace Saloon in Fernandina’s Downtown Historic District
The oldest continuously-operating drinking establishment in Florida is the Palace Saloon. Try the signature cocktail, “Pirate’s Punch,” a popular rum drink at the saloon located on Centre Street in Fernandina’s historic district. It’s hard to miss the Palace Saloon, as you’ll see the life-sized pirate statue outside the saloon doors at this landmark on the island. The building housing the Palace, called the Prescott building, was constructed in 1878. Amelia Island was the stamping ground of pirates, sea captains, and sailors and The Palace was the “ship captain’s bar.” The saloon’s 40-foot bar is a wonderful relic from the turn of the century, surrounded by mosaic tile floors, embossed tin ceilings and murals painted on the walls. The founder of Anheuser-Busch, Adolphus Busch, reportedly assisted in designing the elegant bar, lit with gas lamps. The Palace offers live musical entertainment. For further details, visit their website at www.thepalacesaloon.com.
Walk by the Florida House Inn
The Florida House Inn is said to be Florida’s oldest surviving hotel. The original structure dates back to 1857, built by David Yulee’s Florida Railroad. During the Civil War, Union soldiers occupied the hotel. Notorious guests include Ulysses S. Grant, early film stars such as Laurel & Hardy, and members of America’s elite families, the Rockefellers and Carnegies. To the rear of the Florida House Inn is a lovely courtyard with outdoor seating. A mermaid fountain adds to the ambiance in this private outdoor courtyard setting. (NOTE: The Florida House Inn was renovated and reopened in December, 2010.)
AMELIA ISLAND HORSE AND CARRIAGE RIDES
Take a charming horse drawn carriage ride and hear about historic points of interest around Fernandina’s historic district. Two carriage companies operate tours in Fernandina Beach. The Old Towne Carriage Company has been operating horse drawn carriage tours for many years in historic Fernandina Beach. Call Rita Jackson at Old Towne Carriage for further information at 904-277-1555. Old Towne Carriage Tours features a pure bred Belgian Draft horse. Amelia Island Carriages also offers tours. Contact Cyndi Myers at 904-556-2662. Amelia Island Carriages’ tours feature a Percheron white horse (French breed of Draft horse).
SPANISH OLD TOWN HISTORIC DISTRICT
A second historic district is Old Town, located slightly north of the downtown historic district, with the distinction of being the last Spanish city platted in the Western Hemisphere (retaining the 1811 plat.) Old Town is located off North 14th Street (from historic Centre Street — which turns into Atlantic Avenue — turn onto North 14th Street at the traffic light and follow until you see Old Town on the left, just before the 14th Street bridge. (Read feature article about Spanish Old Town Fernandina with Old Town photo gallery.)
OTHER HISTORICAL LANDMARKS TO SEE ON AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA
Besides the historic district in downtown Fernandina Beach and Old Town Fernandina, also venture east along Atlantic Avenue to visit Fort Clinch State Park (the entrance is not far from Main Beach Park) and see the Amelia Island Lighthouse.
Whether you enjoy hiking in the woods (there’s six miles of off-road trails), bird watching, bike riding, fishing, relaxing on the beach, picnicking, camping, or learning about history with a tour of the brick fortress itself, visitors to Amelia Island need to put Fort Clinch on their itinerary. The expansive waterfront vistas from the fort are second to none on Amelia Island. Featuring a brick fortress of the Civil-War era, the park sprawls across Amelia Island’s northend and is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Amelia Island. Fort Clinch offers a half-mile-long fishing pier, a vast state park with roughly 8,400 feet of shoreline and about 1,153 acres of maritime hammock, moss-draped live oaks, and coastal grasses. The fort itself was built in 1847 at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River for protection of Fernandina Harbor’s deepwater port. There’s plenty of parking, public restrooms, wooden dune walkovers to the beach, and picnic areas with tables and barbeques, and just $6 a car load (2 to 8 people) to gain entry the state park. For just $2 per person, also take a self-guided tour of the historic fort itself. The Civil-War-era Fort Clinch offers living history programs and re-enactments (Union Garrisons are the first weekend each month), plus unique candlelight tours (the first weekend Saturday night each month). If you like camping, the Fort Clinch campground is wonderful, with a nice, clean bathhouse facility with showers and laundry facilities. RV camping and tent camping are available in the park. See the more detailed Fort Clinch page and watch video of Fort Clinch State Park, see more photos…
One of the oldest historic landmarks on Amelia Island is the Amelia Island lighthouse, perched high on a bluff above Egans Creek. If you’d like to see Florida’s oldest lighthouse, then book a tour to visit the grounds of Amelia Island’s lighthouse in Fernandina Beach, Florida, built in 1839. The unique location of Amelia’s lighthouse, being three quarters of a mile inland (more sheltered from inclement weather), has helped preserve the structure. In fact, it is the furthest inland lighthouse in Florida.
It is the only lighthouse in Florida from the “Territorial Period” that has survived without major rebuilding. Another unique feature of the Amelia Island lighthouse is it being one of only two remaining lighthouses in the state designed by Winslow Lewis, the American lighthouse builder. The Amelia Island Lighthouse also showcases a very rare granite spiral stairway. Lighthouse grounds tours are limited, and can be arranged through the Fernandina Beach Recreation Center located on Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina, call (904) 277-7350. Formal tours with presentation are only available on the first and third Wednesday each month (but the property gates are open on Saturdays 11 am to 2 pm to see the lighthouse grounds and take photos). Read feature article about the Amelia Island Lighthouse with more photos.