History For Sale: Victorian-Era Homes, Fernandina Beach

Fernandina’s downtown is a “Great Place” in Florida with some of the state’s grandest homes of bygone days. Several historic properties are for sale including a landmark home, the Bailey House.

Love Old Houses?

When talking about coastal real estate in Florida, one sometimes hears “they aren’t making any more oceanfront.” This line of thought can be applied to historic homes, precious gems from past eras.

House Hunting For Historic Properties?

Home buyers with an appreciation for historic structures can browse several properties for sale in the downtown historic district of Fernandina Beach. Amelia Island itself is known as the “Isle of Eight Flags,” with its place in history as desirable real estate. The fair isle has been claimed more than any other place in the United States. Eight different flags have flown here throughout time.

Step through the welcoming doorways of some of Fernandina’s wonderful, vintage homes, such as the Bailey House, circa 1895 (listed for sale, see more further below).

Fernandina features various architectural styles that were fashionable during the Victorian-era period (1850 to 1910). Wander down sidewalks off the main corridor of Centre Street in Fernandina Beach to see gracious Queen Annes, cottages and bungalows. These homes are brimming with character and charm of a bygone era.

Preserve America Community

Fernandina Beach has implemented architectural guidelines to protect historic district properties (administered by the Historic District Council). The Preserve America designation acknowledges “achievements in historic preservation and economic development.” A Preserve America sign sits in front of Fernandina’s old train depot. The depot, circa 1899, underwent a major restoration project itself that was completed this year, a proud landmark building by the riverfront. Some things are worth protecting and irreplaceable.

The City's Old Train Depot, Fernandina Beach on Centre Street
The City’s Old Train Depot, Fernandina Beach on Centre Street

Recently, the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA) visited Fernandina Beach to present the city with the 2015 “Great Places in Florida” award for the downtown historic district, see related article.

According to the APA, “the Great Places in Florida award is an annual selection of places that represent the gold standard of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement and a vision for tomorrow.”

Bailey House

The Bailey House, a landmark Fernandina home listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is on the market. This home is considered one of the finest examples of Victorian-era Queen Anne architecture in the Southeast and zoning allows use as a bed and breakfast inn. Constructed between 1892 to 1895, the home in more contemporary times became a bed and breakfast in the 1980s but was returned to use as a private residence when it last sold back in 2006.

Besides the homes themselves standing as reminders of a past era, some stories of these homes and their original owners have also survived through time, such as the legend of “Kate’s Tree.”

"Kate's Tree" Near Historic Bailey House, Ash St., Fernandina
“Kate’s Tree” Near Historic Bailey House, Ash Steet

Kate Bailey is known as the savior of a beautiful oak tree near the Bailey House. As the story goes, in the late 19th century, the city wanted to remove this tree on Ash Street when they were connecting Ash Street to 8th, so fire trucks could move easily through. It’s said Kate sat on the home’s lovely wrap around verandah, armed with a shotgun, a warning to those who came to take it down. In the end, the city routed the road around the oak. Mrs. Bailey’s cherished tree, since dubbed “Kate’s Tree,” has grown to massive size. Every Fernandina parade marches under this magnificent tree’s canopy covering Ash Street, and past the marvelous Bailey House.

Fernandina’s early schoolhouse, a brick building circa 1886 with the school bell still in its roof-top tower, has also recently been listed for sale. According to the listing, the property’s zoning allows flexibility for various uses (besides commercial office space), including possibility for a bed & breakfast or hotel, restaurant, or re-purposing the property to residential space as a single or multi-family home.

The Steamboat House (or Rutishauser House), circa 1883, with its front elevation shaded by a huge oak tree, is another historic property for sale that can be utilized commercially or for private use. Its stepping stone platform (now behind the property’s white picket fence), is another reminder of the past, used by ladies and gentlemen to step up into their carriages more easily.

Located north of Centre Street is an area dubbed the “Silk Stocking District.” Named so because of the well-to-do residents who lived in grand homes of the “Golden Age.” In this area is another splendid residence that has become available. With a lovely, signature oak tree near the front verandah, is the Chadwick House circa 1883, pictured below.

The Chadwick House, Fernandina Beach
The Chadwick House, Fernandina Beach, circa 1883

Dream of Innkeeping?

Some may imagine themselves buying an historic home and sharing it with overnight guests. It can be a round-the-clock endeavor for on-site innkeepers. But for some, it’s a journey of personal fulfillment. Meeting new people from all walks of life. Some who become familiar friends, returning for visits over the years.

Besides the homes is the setting, an historic seaport on a barrier island with 13 miles of beachfront. Amelia Island tourism numbers have been breaking previous records the past few years — over half a million visitors annually. Fernandina’s downtown historic district is an inviting destination.

Centre Street is the hub of activity downtown, a place that charms tourists and residents alike. Nostalgia abounds with a Victorian-era clock tower-topped courthouse and the old post office that’s been around since stamps cost two cents. There’s also The Florida House circa 1857, said to be Florida’s oldest surviving hotel, and a corner saloon, “The Palace,” Florida’s oldest continuously-operated drinking establishment circa 1903.

Florida Main Street

Downtown Fernandina Beach was also recently awarded designation as a “Florida Main Street” community. The Florida Main Street program is “aimed at identifying, evaluating, and preserving Florida’s historic resources,” according to the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

Old Town Fernandina

A second historic district on the north end of Amelia Island is “Old Town” (retaining the 1811 Spanish plat), the original location of the “Town of Fernandina” before the city was relocated to its current downtown location. Find out more, see photos “Along The River, Old Town and Fernandina Plaza.”

Guardians of History

Investing in historic homes comes with additional ownership responsibilities including required approvals through formal channels to do home renovations. Old homes are usually associated with added costs for maintenance, materials and repairs, as compared to a new home. But besides having the money, people purchasing such homes often are driven by a passion for “antique” homes and their unique architectural features, and sometimes, their intriguing stories. Special people who are willing and able to assume an important role as the guardians of history.

So for those looking for historic properties to fall in love with around Florida’s coast, consider touring properties in Fernandina Beach. The city’s Victorian-era dwellings deserve a look.

Historic District Council

According to the city of Fernandina Beach, the Historic District Council (HDC) protects “sites of architectural and historic significance by acting as a design review board for exterior alterations, repairs and moving or demolition of historic structures or landscape features,” read more about building in historic districts, see Fernandina’s brochure here. Also visit the city’s website to learn more about Fernandina’s HDC. Also available online is the 128-page report, Fernandina Beach Downtown Historic District Design Guidelines” published by Thomason and Associates Preservation Planners in 2013.

NOTE: Properties mentioned here for sale as of 11/20/15 are subject to change. Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed as to accuracy or completeness. Potential buyers of real estate should consult a local Amelia Island real estate professional for complete list of all historic properties available for sale on any given date and conduct further research.

By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by W.B. Lawson. Wendy has enjoyed the laid-back Amelia Island lifestyle since 1993. Her professional background began at a newspaper in NY. She then worked in PR/Investor Relations at Fortune 500 company, and later became a managing editor at an equity research publishing firm. She was Series 7 licensed while with Merrill Lynch Private Client Group.