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Historic Old Town Fernandina

A little world of its own, Old Town Fernandina attracts those with a penchant for historic preservation and a love of riverfront living. It’s the proximity to the water and the heritage that seems to attract newcomers. Folks living here can literally get from bed to boat in a matter of minutes by foot.

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Old Town Fernandina View of Amelia River Sailboats
Old Town Fernandina View of Amelia River Sailboats

OLD TOWN LOT GRID, RECTANGLES & SQUARES CALLED A “PEONIA”  IN THE LAW OF THE INDIES

The Old Town lot grid is comprised of square and rectangular blocks.  There are two sized lots for building homes, peonia (sized 46’6” by 93’) and smaller media peonia lots, 46’6’ squares. While some homes of this river town date back to the 1850s, a few newcomers have built homes in the past 20 years, including replicas reflecting historic architecture.  The Victorian Sea Cottage with its carriage house is fine example of a home built in Old Town in 2001 honoring the area’s history.  Along with new construction, the owner’s implemented authentic features such as old doors, leaded windows, and wood salvaged from other historic homes of the correct period.

1811 TO 2011, OLD TOWN FERNANDINA BICENTENNIAL

There was a big local effort to pull the Old Town bicentennial event together (particularly Mike and Jennifer Harrison), a force of volunteers, the Amelia Island Museum of History, and participation by many local organizations.  There were educational activities and a nature tour. Visitors had the rare opportunity to tour three ship captains’ homes and two cottages of the mid-19th century, as well as the Victorian Sea Cottage built a decade ago (noted above) and the adjacent Spanish cemetery, Bosque Bello.

Live Spanish music and dancers entertained on the riverfront stage with the magnificent backdrop of a sailboat regatta, their white sails gleaming against the blue waters of the Amelia River.  The costumed Fernandina Pirates Club were out in force, invading and roaming the plaza along with historic re-enactors welcoming folks to homes and recalling the history and stories of Old Town.  Members of the Florida Public Archaeological Network busily dug in the ground, slicing through layers of time. The Amelia Island Boules Club played Petanque on the crushed shell surface of a street alongside the plaza, a ready-made surface ideal for their game. Amelia Island Trolleys provided free shuttle rides around Old Town, with Fernandina Beach High School students aboard, volunteer tour guides.  Captain Kevin McCarthy of Amelia River Cruises , brought folks back and forth all day between the Fernandina Harbor river to a marina dock at Old Town, giving free ferry rides to kids and seniors.  Kudos to all these folks who helped orchestrate this high quality, educational event here on Amelia Island. Let’s hope this island adds another festival to its annual calendar showcasing Spanish Old Town Fernandina. The 2011 celebration attracted around 3,000 people. An Old Town Festival could mirror the excellent agenda of the bicentennial celebration day.

For those who relish history but have never ventured into this old town less traveled, remember to see it when visiting Amelia Island. Also learn more about preservation guidelines by reading in-depth study by the University of Florida College of Architecture, Preservation Institute: Caribbean, “Old Town Fernandina Preservation and Development Guide” (a downloadable PDF file on the city of Fernandina’s web site). Anyone with an interest to further investigate building a new home in this historic district will naturally have to follow some strict building design codes in place to preserve this significant slice of America’s past.

DIRECTIONS TO OLD TOWN

To drive to Old Town, turn onto North 14th Street from Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach and continue past the entrances to the paper mill and Bosque Bello Cemetery. Old Town is on the left, just before the 14th Street Bridge and the two marinas on Egans Creek — Tiger Point Marina and the 14th Street Marina.

By The Editor

Amelia Island Living's "PERSPECTIVE" column features observations of island life, news & opinion.