For a well-rounded immersion into Amelia Island’s history, visit the local museums listed below, plus several key historic sites. Those shorter on time can browse this list and choose a few options.
Fernandina’s downtown historic district is a 50-plus block area on the National Register of Historic Places. Also visit the city’s original site at Old Town and the Fernandina Plaza, on bluff above the Amelia River.
Learn about the Timucua, Spanish explorers, and pirates. Discover the history of Fernandina’s thriving Victorian-era and its shrimping legacy. And be sure not to miss seeing Fort Clinch State Park, featuring “one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in America.”
See Some of Florida’s “Oldest”
Fernandina Beach holds claim to Florida’s oldest existing lighthouse (Amelia Island Lighthouse c. 1838), the state’s oldest continually-operated drinking establishment (The Palace Saloon c. 1903), and the oldest hotel in the state (Florida House Inn c. 1857). Other key landmark buildings downtown include Centre Street’s Nassau County Courthouse c. 1891, the old train depot c. 1899, and the old post office c. 1912.
Fort Clinch State Park
A must-see attraction when visiting Amelia Island is Fort Clinch State Park (904-277-7274), located at 2601 Atlantic Avenue. Park entry fee is $6 a vehicle (2 to 8 people, or $4 for a single driver) and $2.50 per person if you wish to tour the fort itself. History buffs will be enamored with this fortress. However, it’s a fascinating place for all, and the kids will love exploring it, too. Walk over the draw bridge, through what we like to call the “time tunnel,” back to the year 1864. Wander around various buildings including soldiers’ barracks, a prison cell, kitchen, bastions and the parade ground. Also walk up to the cannons to take in one of the best panoramic waterfront views available on Amelia Island.
The park, with around 1,400 acres, has extensive shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, Cumberland Sound and Amelia River. The scenery is beautiful — beaches, sand dunes, and lovely oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. This park is the largest, natural area remaining on Amelia Island.
Fort Clinch tours are self-guided, but at least one reenactor, a soldier, will be present to talk about the Fort’s history and answer questions. There’s also a Fort museum with exhibit cases and informative film. One can sit and relax in air conditioning, while watching the presentation covering the fort’s history. However, Fort Clinch does also offer once a month “living history” weekends, when lots of reenactors bring the fort to life as though it was the year 1864. This occurs the first weekend of each month.
Amelia Island Museum of History
The Amelia Island Museum of History (904)261-7378, is located in downtown Fernandina Beach at 233 S. Third Street. Museum hours Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and Sundays 1 to 4 pm (admission $8 adults, $5 students). Included with admission is the docent-led “Eight Flags Tour,” duration one hour, at 11 am and 2 pm Monday to Saturday, and Sundays at 2 pm. Free museum admission on Friday from 4 to 6 pm. The popular historic PUB CRAWL happens Thursday evening at 5:30 (cost $25, aged 21+, ID required). Many also enjoy the Ghost Tour (one hour), held Fridays at 6 pm ($10 adults, $5 students). The Ghost Tour starts at cemetery behind Fernandina’s St. Peters Episcopal Church.
Old Town Fernandina
Another significant historic area is Old Town Fernandina, the original site of the city. Fernandina was moved about a mile from its original location on a high bluff above the Amelia River, to its current location downtown. This bluff is also where the Spanish Fort San Carlos once stood.
A bit more off the beaten path, drive to Old Town via North 14th Street (off Atlantic Avenue), to see some remaining Victorian-era homes plus a stunning elevated view from Fernandina Plaza overlooking the river.
The most popular home to see at Old Town is the Captain’s House. In more modern times it was dubbed the “Pippi Longstocking House,” as scenes from the 1988 movie were filmed here. Want to live in Old Town? For those interested in historic homes, this one happens to be on the market, listed for sale at $675,000, (as of this writing).
Amelia Island Lighthouse
One of the most historic landmarks in Fernandina Beach is the Amelia Island Lighthouse, perched on a bluff above Egans Creek. Built between 1838 and 1839, it’s the oldest lighthouse in Florida and is still operational today, sending out its guiding beam of light.
Lighthouse Gates Open Saturdays
Those visiting on the weekend can access the Amelia Island Lighthouse grounds to look around and take photos on Saturdays from 11 am to 2 pm. No formal tour or informational session is held, but the gates are opened to the public. The address is 215 O’Hagan Lane, located off North Wolf Street in Fernandina Beach.
Lighthouse Tours Twice Monthly
The formal, guided lighthouse tours only happen twice a month, the first and third Wednesday of each month at 10 am. Be sure to book this guided tour in advance ($5 per adult, $3 per child under 12), by calling the city of Fernandina’s Parks and Recreation at 904-310-3350. While guests cannot actually climb up into the lighthouse, visitors hear an excellent history presentation inside the heated/air conditioned building on the property.
American Beach Museum
In 2002, the American Beach Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing the beach enclave for its African American cultural heritage. The American Beach Museum, (904)-510-7036, 1600 Julia Street, is open Friday and Saturday 10 am to 2 pm and Sunday 1 to 5 pm. Admission is $4 per adult (seniors $3, students $2). Visit the museum and look around the historic district to experience stories and heritage of American Beach.
American Beach was a vacation spot for African Americans back when beaches in America were segregated. It was created by successful businessman, A. L. Lewis, Florida’s first black millionaire, who founded the community in 1935 during the Jim Crow era as a beach getaway for “recreation and relaxation without humiliation.”
Today, American Beach is the first stop on the Florida Black Heritage Trail with approximately 50 homes remaining from the 1940s and 1950s. Pictured above is a sand dune dubbed “Nana,” said to be the tallest in the state of Florida. It’s located in American Beach, and is now part of the National Park Service (Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve). The dune’s preservation is the legacy of MaVynee Betsch, “The Beach Lady,” the most vocal American Beach advocate.
Fernandina’s Shrimp Museum
Like to eat shrimp? Fernandina is considered the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in America. Stop by the Shrimping Museum (free admission) to learn more. Located at Fernandina Harbor Marina’s Welcome Center on riverfront boardwalk, it’s a tribute to the city’s shrimping legacy.
Maritime Museum of Amelia Island
The Maritime Museum of Amelia Island is a display venue of Amelia Research & Discovery, the treasure hunters.
This summer, the crew of the Polly-L (pictured above), continued their pursuit to find a lost Spanish galleon, the San Miguel. They think it may have sunk off Amelia Island in 1715. See related article and video about Amelia Island’s pirates and hunting for shipwrecks. The Maritime Museum of Amelia Island (904)277-1948, is located in downtown Fernandina Beach at 115 South 2nd Street. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am until 5 pm. Admission is $5 per adult (kids under 12 free).