July 3, 2021
Fernandina Beach, Florida is as far northeast on the Atlantic Coast 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.
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 eight 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.
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, daughter 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.
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.
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.
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 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:
FERNANDINA BEACH ATTRACTIONS
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.