Today, Fernandina’s Fort Clinch is said to be “one of the most well-preserved 19th century fortresses in America.” But it may not have been so.
A legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and “The New Deal,” Fort Clinch’s restoration was a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), under supervision of the National Park Service.
Peering into the past (historic photos 1937-1939 from “Florida Memory,” State Archives of Florida), the dilapidated condition of the Fort Clinch barracks is in stark contrast to the Fort as it stands now. Today it’s an educational monument saluting the past and enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.
A “third system fortification,” original construction of Fort Clinch began in 1847. While never completed 100%, the fort was a military post during the Civil War years and the Spanish-American War. Fort Clinch and some surrounding acreage was purchased in 1935 by the state of Florida (after being abandoned since around 1900).
After decades of neglect, restoration of Fort Clinch buildings began in 1936 with help of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). After its restoration, the fort was opened to the public in 1938. A few years later, the fort became a watch station during World War II.
According to the Florida State Parks website, “the CCC had its greatest impact on the development of the Florida State Parks system through the stimulus it provided for public land acquisition.” Nine of Florida’s first state parks, including Fort Clinch, were developed by the CCC.
FDR had the foresight to rescue lands and parks for future generations while also creating jobs and putting people back to work during the dark days of the Great Depression.
Dubbed “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” the young men of the CCC planted an estimated 3 billion trees in America (plus built wildlife refuges, trails, campgrounds, restored historic structures and more across the nation). Throwing a life line to over 300 million young men (during the years 1933-1942), these CCC jobs saved families from soup lines while re-nourishing America’s natural resources. It was the CCC’s Company 1420 who worked at Fort Clinch and helped restore the park.
Living History Reenactments
Today, history comes alive at Fort Clinch State Park (see Fort Clinch photo gallery and video). Special reenactments of life at the fort during the Civil War period happen the first weekend every month (1st Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 1st Sundays 9 am till noon). The large park covers over 1,400 acres, is the gateway to the Great Florida Birding Trail. The property features lovely Atlantic coast beachfront, hiking and biking trails, a nearly half-mile-long fishing pier and camp grounds. The fortress is one of Amelia Island’s top historic landmarks and a wonderful destination to enjoy outdoor activities.
Entry fees to this Florida State Park is only $6 per car load (up to 8), or ride into the park on a bicycle for $2 per person. (There’s an additional fee of $2 per person to tour the historic fortress itself). Open 8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year. The entrance to Fort Clinch State Park is located on Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach, just up the street from Main Beach Park. Call Fort Clinch at 904-277-7274 for further information.