The southernmost of the "Golden Isles" chain of barrier islands, Amelia Island's beaches are its most alluring attraction. Its 13 miles of pristine beaches, framed in places by 40-foot high dunes capped by sea oats, rank among America's ten most beautiful beaches.
Amelia Island is located at the extreme northeastern corner of Florida, just across the St. Mary's River and Cumberland Sound from Georgia and about 32 miles north of Jacksonville. It was named by General James Edward Oglethorpe in honor of Princess Amelia, the daughter of King George II of England.
The island is 13.5 miles long; its width varies from one-quarter mile to two miles, comprising 18.2 square miles and 11,600 acres, of which approximately 7 square miles lie within the city limits of Fernandina Beach. The elevation of the Island is 20-25 feet above average mean sea level.
The 1990 census recorded a Nassau County population of 43,941, of which approximately one-third lived on Amelia Island. The annual average mean temperature for the Island is 69.9 degrees.
Amelia's main attractions are its beaches, Fort Clinch with the Island's only camping facilities, Fernandina Beach's Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, golf, and fishing. The principal industries are tourism, commercial and sport fishing, Jefferson-Smurfit Corporation, Rayonier, and the Port of Fernandina
50-Block Historic District, Fernandina
Amelia Island's small seaport city, Fernandina Beach, has a 50-block historic district listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. The district is amazingly preserved and maintains many original structures dating back to the late 19th century. Strolling down Centre Street in the historic district, one feels somewhat suspended in time, the aura of simpler days gone by still remains.
When Henry Flagler's railroad bypassed the island, tourism and the shipping industry began to disappear and the historic district slipped into obscurity. Over the years, without the income from tourism instead of modernizing the area the buildings were repaired. This preserved the architectural heritage. There are numerous guided and self-guided walking tours of the area where you will find including many Victorian-style mansions and cottages adorned with classic Victorian gingerbread.
Fort Clinch State Park
This pre-Civil War fort is one of Amelia Island's most unique historical sites. It is located inside a state park located at the northern end of the Island. The fort was named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a hero in the Second Seminole War. The fort begun in 1847, was never completely finished. Like so many other forts of its time, the invention of the rifled cannon, and stronger gunpowder made its construction obsolete.
The first week-end of each month, volunteers and the park rangers reenact life in 1864 when it was occupied by the Union troops. Speaking only in the language of the time, they demonstrate woodworking techniques, do laundry, cook foods of that era and fire the cannons.
Birthplace of the modern shrimping industry
Early in the 20th century, Fernandina Beach, the tiny seaport city on Amelia Island, is credited with being the birthplace of the modern, commercial shrimping industry. The first major change in shrimping methods in Fernandina, was around 1902, when the first power driven shrimp boat was put into use. At the same time shrimping moved to offshore locations, not just inshore. Another change in shrimping, originating in Fernandina around the same time, was a new shrimping method called the modern otter trawl, used instead of previous conventional shrimping methods such as cast nets, haul seines, bar nets and crudely-made trawls.
Shrimp boats are still found at Fernandina's downtown marina, and unload up to one million tons of shrimp caught off Amelia's shores annually. These shrimp are a delight for any seafood lover, having an especially sweet taste.
The Palace Saloon,
This is the oldest saloon in state of Florida still remaining in the same location. It was also supposedly the last tavern in the country to close during prohibition. They served ice cream instead during those "dry" years. It's famous for its rum "Pirate's Punch," and during the late 1800s, was once the favorite of society families such as the DuPonts, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies. The Carnegie family had a mansion called Dungeness, on Cumberland Island, located across the water from Amelia. A fire destroyed the Palace Saloon in recent years, but it has been restored and has reopened.
Claimed by 8 Countries Over the Years!
Like other parts of Florida, Native Americans such as the Yamasees, Guale, and then Timucuan tribes were the first to inhabit Amelia Island, dating back to 1,000 - 2,000 B.C.
In the past 400 plus years, 8 different flags have flown over of Amelia Island. This is the only location in the U.S. to have been owned by so many nations. The different countries to fly flags over Amelia Islands shores were the French from 1562-1565; Spanish 1565-1763; British 1763-1783; Spanish, again 1783-1821 with 3 exceptions -- Patriots 1812, Green Cross of Florida 1817, Mexican Rebel Flag 1817; United States of America 1821 to present with one interruption -- the Confederate Flag, 1862.
The Amelia Island Lighthouse
The Amelia Island Lighthouse sits 107 feet above sea level, its sun-bleached white tower perched high above Egan's creek, with a beam of light visible 19 miles at sea. Built in 1839, the lighthouse is one of the oldest structures on Amelia Island. Originally, the lighthouse lamp was fueled with whale oil, which was later replaced by kerosene and eventually electricity. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is not open to the public but can be seen above the trees from Atlantic Avenue at Egan's Creek.
First Florida Railroad
Fernandina Beach, was the beginning of Florida's first cross-state railroad. It was built from Fernandina to Cedar Key during 1855-1861. The original railroad depot was destroyed by the hurricane of 1898, however, a replacement was built in 1899 which still stands today. It is located at the foot of Centre Street next to the railroad tracks. The railroad passenger service was eliminated in the 1930s, and the train depot is now home to Amelia Island's Chamber of Commerce.
Florida Tourism Began Here -- Fernandina Beach was tourist destination during 1870s-1890s
Amelia Island was one of the first destinations for Florida tourists. This was the beginnings of what is now a huge tourism industry for the state of Florida. During this time, the Mallory Steamship Line transported tourists originating in New York to Fernandina Beach, which was a very busy port and point of dismemberment. Travelers either stayed in Fernandina or continued their travel throughout Florida from the port of Fernandina. With no railroad to transport them to central and southern Florida many stayed in the Amelia Island area.
Fernandina's Florida House, the oldest hotel in Florida is still in operation today as a bed and breakfast inn. The Inn contains two buildings. The first was built by the railroad in 1857 - 1859. The second building was added in 1882, when the Inn became very popular with the wealthy, high society families.
The Egmont, located in Fernandina Beach was Florida's first large tourist hotel. With 75 rooms, it was built in 1877. The Egmont no longer exists, closing apparently due to competition from a popular St. Augustine hotel. Another luxury tourist hotel, the Strathmore, was also built on the Island by the railroad in 1881. It was wiped out by the hurricane of 1898
If the railroads not helped Florida tourist trade to move southward into Florida, Amelia Island would not have remained the charming island it is. Amelia's pristine beachfront might have met the fate of so many other Florida coastal areas being heavily commercialized and developed with endless high-rise hotels and clutter.
This little barrier island with it's rich history, beautiful beaches, and abundance of nature, has managed to retain a simplicity and quaintness. The secret is beginning to leak out, and over the past decade, Amelia's tourist trade has been steadily growing. Nevertheless, Amelia Island is still somewhat off the beaten path, and very unique among Florida tourist destinations.