With lovely Victorian-era architecture, step back in time to the simpler days of yesteryear in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida. Browse photo gallery below, scenes around Fernandina’s historic district and harbor marina. Rich in history, with its downtown historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s plenty to explore here. (Hover over photo below to see arrows, browse through gallery).
Fernandina Beach holds claim to the oldest existing lighthouse, the oldest continually-operating drinking establishment, and the oldest hotel in the state of Florida. Amelia Island’s historic city of Fernandina is also 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 55-block 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”). Visitors can also take a ghost tour to explore island haunts, or 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, pubs and harbor marina are all within walking distance when exploring Fernandina’s “foot-friendly” downtown.
Representatives of the Smithsonian Institute previously described 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 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.”)
Marvel at some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture on the eastern seaboard. 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. Fernandina features various architectural styles that were fashionable during the Victorian-era period (1850 to 1910).
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 the Palace Saloon website.
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 and mermaid fountain adding to the ambiance.
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 carriage tours in Fernandina Beach. Find out more from Amelia Island Carriages by calling 904-556-2662. Also, the Old Towne Carriage Company offers tours, 904-277-1555.
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..)
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.
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