Known as the "Isle of Eight Flags," Amelia Island has had a tumultuous past, characterized by its diverse cast of Timucuan Indians, pirates, shrimpers, nobles and confederates. Early on, Amelia and the community of Fernandina Beach emerged as an important seaport, a legacy that today can be seen throughout its Victorian-era architecture and charming historic district. Today, the island is home to Florida's oldest continuously operating bar, the Palace Saloon, located within a sprawling 50-block area of homes and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. History enthusiasts will also have to visit Old Town, the last Spanish Town in the Western Hemisphere and the former Spanish Fort San Carlos.
Ulysses S. Grant was among the first flush of tourists to arrive in the late 1800s to Amelia Island’s Victorian Italian seaport, strategically positioned where Florida meets Georgia at Cumberland Gap on the east coast. Nearly 50 structures in the heart of Fernandina Beach's 55-block historic zone, including the residential Silk Stocking District, predate the 20th century and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For a walking tour, pick up a free brochure at the visitors center on the waterfront. The Amelia Island Museum of History, www.ameliamuseum.org, located on South 3rd Street at Cedar, hosts interesting, specialty walking tours based on the town’s historic ghosts, Centre Street and other themes.
Old Towne Carriage Company offers an historic tour via horse-drawn carriage. This leisurely tour teaches the history and landmarks of the 50-block National Registry of Historic Places downtown district. The Old Towne Carriage Company is the oldest carriage company on Amelia Island providing services to the residents and guests at this quiet Victorian seaport. The company uses only purebred Belgian Draft Horses, the largest and strongest of all breeds and known as "gentle giants" because of their calm disposition and friendly demeanor.
The Tourist Development Council's Visitor Center is a good place to pick up maps and other information in a beautiful small rail depot, steps away from the harbor where pirates used to dock. The docks now are open to private boats, as well as river cruise boats, and shrimpers. To find additional information both on nature and on Fernandina Beach, visit the Amelia Island Museum of History for interesting, specialty walking tours based on the town's historic ghosts, Centre Street and other themes.
Some of the "oldest" in Fernandina Beach include the awe-inspiring and historic St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Florida’s oldest Episcopal church, open daily for prayer. In another few blocks and just off Centre, is the First Presbyterian Church, one of Florida’s oldest, built in 1858. The county’s historic courthouse and awe-inspiring post office, built in 1891 and 1912, respectively, are on Centre's next block. Other historic brick commercial buildings hold a medley of interesting shops selling books, jewelry, art, antiques, Christmas decorations, homemade fudge, ice cream, coffee, toys and other uncommon gifts and necessities. By wandering north along side streets, visitors will discover more architectural gems. Fourth Street North leads to the Romanesque St. Michael’s Catholic Church, circa 1872. Finally, live music and adult refreshment wait at the circa-1903 Palace Saloon, the hangout of the Rockefellers and Carnegies and less storied island folk. A variety of beer and liquor are surrounded by murals depicting pirates and Shakespearean characters.
The stories of Amelia Island's eight flags parallel the stories of Florida's history, but with a few extra tales. The island, an important location for the interests of the Spanish, the French, the Union during the Civil War, and even the pirates, makes for a colorful history. The eight flags of Amelia Island, after the Timucuans were overcome, were the French, Spanish, British, the Green Cross of the Patriots, Confederate States of America, the United States of America, and the state of Florida.
One of the Island's unique features is American Beach, a section of beach purchased by an Afro-American life insurance company in the 1930s. In its heyday, it was the gathering point for the black elite from Jacksonville and the area immediately surrounding Amelia Island. It is still one of the most historic black communities in the South, and is still primarily an African-American point of interest. It rests between two large resorts, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island and Omni Amelia Island Plantation, both of which are committed to keeping American Beach for its historical significance. Located approximately five miles south of the town of Fernandina Beach, American Beach is marked by a small sign along the First Coast Highway.