July 6, 2020
Fernandina Beach 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.
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
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.
The park also has a wonderful campground.
The Crab Trap
31 North 2nd Street
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
The Crab Trap in downtown Fernandina has been family owned and operated for more than 30 years. It is located in The Seydel Building, a historic structure built in the 1870s.
The restaurant began operations in this building during Shrimp Festival Weekend in 1979. The operation is owned by Richard Germano and his daughter, Holly, and many crew members have been on board for years.
The menu has a large selection of seafood and steak specials, including an interesting appetizer menu featuring colossal onion rings, fried cheese sticks, and fresh Florida gator tail. In addition to the soup of the day, you can try their excellent fresh blue crab soup. It features blue crab claw meat in a buttery milky broth.
They have a huge selection of seafood specialties including what they call "crabs, crabs, & more crabs". These are typically Alaskan snow crab, Dungeness Crab, and King Crab. Some of the seafood entrees are shrimp and grits, shrimp creole, and a seafood medley casserole that includes bay scallops and blue crab claw meat.
There is a large selection of fish, including Mahi Mahi and their fresh catch of the day. The menu features many oyster dishes, including raw oysters on the half shell. All entrees include side orders like salads, hush puppies, sweet potatoes, green beans, and steamed vegetables.
Land lubbers are not forgotten and can enjoy rib eye and New York strip steaks, or hand cut chicken tenders. The senior and children's menu even includes pizza, hamburger and chicken fingers.
This restaurant has a full bar with a wide selection of cocktails and wine. Locals and tourists alike enjoy going to the upstairs bar to sip a few and watch the sun set over the marina. It's one of the best sunsets in Florida.
The Crab Trap does not accept reservations, and is open for dinner 7 days a week from 4:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Check with them before you go because sometimes they open earlier for special events and popular weekends.
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.