FERNANDINA BEACH,  FLORIDA

Fernandina Beach, Florida is as far northeast as you can get in the Sunshine State.  

It is on the south bank of the St. Marys River that divides Florida and Georgia.

Perched on the north end of Amelia Island, it is a natural deep water seaport.

It was one of Florida's first major cities.

The downtown area of the town preserves and displays many of the old historic buildings.  

HISTORY OF FERNANDINA BEACH,  FLORIDA

The history of Fernandina Beach is so confusing that only a history professor can understand it fully.

It is the only United States location to have been under 8 different flags.

Its fortunes rose and fell with the fate of Spain, France, England, The Confederate States of America, the English American Colonies and the United States of America.

The first recorded visitor to Amelia Island was the French admiral and explorer, Jean Ribault. He arrived in May of 1562 and found the area populated by Timucuan Indians.

Jean Ribault

He claimed the island "Isle de Mai" for the month of May, and claimed it for France.

The Spanish came along 5 years later and claimed it for Spain.  The Spaniards stuck around for almost 200 years, and in 1686 they built Fort San Fernando located in the area of Fernandina Beach now called Old Town.

They called the island Santa Maria.

Then the English came along and wiped out the Spanish and renamed the island for Princess Amelia, sister of King George II.  For a few years they called it Egmont after the Earl of Egmont's big indigo plantation.

After the Revolutionary War, the victorious Americans took the island from the English and gave it back to Spain.

In 1812 a group called "Patriots of Amelia Island" kicked the Spanish out and raised their own flag.  The next day they raised the U.S. flag, but Spain demanded the island be returned, so it became Spanish again.

Fernandina Beach Florida Flags

In 1817 an adventurer named Sir Gregor MacGregor captured the Spanish Fort San Carlos, and he raised his own flag, the Green Cross standard.

Then a couple of rebels and a pirate gained control from Sir Gregor and raised the Mexican Rebel flag.The United States quickly booted these guys out and held Amelia Island in trust for Spain.

Amelia Island finally became United States soil in 1821 when Florida became a territory.

During the first year of the civil war, however, the island was under the Confederate flag.

Old Glory was raised again in 1862, and the last time I checked, Amelia Island is still under the flag of The United States of America.

Fernandina thrived in the years just before and after the U.S. Civil War, and up until just after 1900.

Fernandina Beach Florida Vintage Postcard

Fort Clinch was built in 1847, and in the 1850's Fernandina became the eastern terminus of Florida's first cross-state railroad.

The railroad was built by Senator David Levy Yulee. It's western terminus was Cedar Key.

The historic district of Fernandina has been carefully preserved. Many houses and buildings remain as proof that this was a very prosperous town.Tourists came by steamboat from New York and other northern cities to stay in the city's beautiful hotels.

The shipping industry boomed with outgoing cargoes of lumber, naval stores and phosphate, and incoming loads of tourists.

Fernandina Beach Florida Harbor

By the early 1900's, however, the tourism trade had moved south to St. Augustine, and Fernandina became somewhat isolated.  Today it is a bustling little town of about 11,000 souls.

It is a self sufficient place with a solid paper industry, a shrimp fleet, and plenty of service industry jobs generated by the affluent retirement and second home communities of southern Amelia Island.

FERNANDINA BEACH FLORIDA MOTELS

Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island are blessed with a variety of lodging places.  Accomodations range from the simplest of Mom and Pop motels to the Ritz Carlton (which is fantastic!), and prices vary accordingly.

I have a few suggestions to make:

  • Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn, Comfort Inn and other national low cost chains have locations at the I-95 exit.

  • The Amelia Island Williams House is one of several wonderful bed and breakfast inns located in the historic downtown area of Fernandina Beach. The rooms are large, and feature whirlpool tubs. A southern breakfast is served, and wine is served on the verandah at sunset. Tel: 800-414-9258. Book this B&B or others in Fernandina Beach now!


FERNANDINA BEACH RESTAURANTS

Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island are loaded with great restaurants, some pricey, some reasonable. A couple of my favorites are:

  • The Crab Trap Restaurant. I recently had dinner here for the first time and it was great. In the heart of Old Downtown, rustic furnishings with benches and tables reminiscent of a barbecue joint. Had great blackened mahi mahi and coleslaw. Great hushpuppies too. 31 N. 2nd Street, Fernandina Beach Florida. Tel: 904-261-4749. Open 5 pm daily.

  • Ahan Thai Kitchen. I love ethnic food, and especially when it's Thai. This little restaurant is one of the best. It is decorated in the usual Thai style and has a comfortable feel. It was formerly known as Lanna Thai. I get in a rut in Thai restaurants, and most often order stir fried ginger chicken. Once I had Shrimp Pad Thai, and it was excellent. The soups are also delicious. 474260 E. SR-200, Fernandina Beach Florida. Tel: 904-321-0255.

  • The Surf Restaurant and Bar. When I feel like eating outside, I go to the Surf. I sit on the big porch. It's across the road from the ocean. I ate inside only once, and that was in the summer when it was pushing 100 degrees outside. The have a couple of bars, TV screens and live music at night. Locals love the place, and the crowd is nice looking and well behaved. Their salads are served up in a big tortilla shell. They also have wings, wraps, burgers, steak, chicken and fish. Nice friendly service. 3199 South Fletcher Avenue, Fernandina Beach Florida. Tel: 904-261-5711.

The Palace Saloon did not serve food the last time I visited. But as a place that bills itself as Florida's oldest continuously operated drinking establishment, it has to be visited. It features a beautiful ornate old wooden bar reportedly created with the help of the original Augustus Busch of beer fame. Smoking is allowed in The Palace Saloon, and you can tell it the minute you walk in the door. Tel: 904-491-3332

Fernandina Beach Florida Palace Saloon

FERNANDINA BEACH FLORIDA ATTRACTIONS

  1. Amelia Island's annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is Fernandina Beach's biggest event. It is held every year the first weekend in May, attracting more than 100,000 visitors. The art show is well attended and has over 300 booths. The Festival features live musical entertainment at the riverfront stage, shrimp dishes cooked in many different ways, and plenty for kids to do. Friday night has fireworks, and the harbor is invaded by a pirate ship.

  2. The Amelia Island Museum of History is well worth a visit. The museum has articles from the Timucuan tribe, the Spanish and French explorers, and mementoes from the other diverse cultures that are the heritage of Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach. 233 South Third Street, Fernandina Beach. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 am-4 pm, and Sunday 1 pm-4 pm. Telephone 904-261-7378.

Fort Clinch is one of the best preserved 19th century forts in the United States. It is part of the Florida State Park system. It was used during both the Civil and Spanish-American wars, although it never saw combat. You will enjoy the daily tours of the fort. Re-enactors dressed in period uniforms will chat you up and you will feel like you took a time machine back in years. Tel: 904-277-7274.

Fernandina Beach Florida Fort Clinch

Fernandina Beach Florida is about 11 miles east of I-95 Exit 373. This exit is about 10 miles south of the Georgia-Florida border.

Travel east through Yulee on SR-A1A, also known as The Buccaneer Trail, and shown as Highway 1A on this Google map.

Continue on SR-A1A east to Amelia Island, then follow the road as it bends north into Fernandina's historic downtown section.


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