Usually when a town is named “________ Beach”, it means there’s already a city named ________ nearby, and this _______ Beach place is the formerly unincorporated area where the residents of _______ used to go swimming, and is now a random collection of former beach cottages being occupied permanently. But there is no city of Fernandina near Fernandina Beach. It is the city itself, and in fact, just to be confusing, it seems to be two distinct cities.
It is the northernmost city in Florida, on the north end of Amelia Island, which has seen a lot of resort development at the southern end in recent decades. Fernandina Beach has an excellent harbor behind the barrier island, and this was the basis for its early existence.
It is another one of those southern places that has confusing history of sovereignty – this time it is eight different flags (including Mexican rebels and pirates) which may be the record. Fort Clinch was built here in the early 19th century, and it was one end of the first railroad across Florida. The railroad brought trade and tourism, and in the late 19th century, it was one of the premier resorts in Florida. The center of town is a national historic district, with some solid commercial buildings,
The really amusing thing about this historic district is that it is not the original town, which is located about three miles north. But when the planning for the railroad was happening, the builder of the railroad, Senator Yulee, demanded that the town be moved to better serve the railroad, and so it was. For what is largely a resort town, industry has played a very large role in determining its form, and can be seen in the tracks along the waterfront
Fernandina was also where the domestic shrimp fishing industry began, long before it shifted to the Gulf of Mexico. They have a Shrimping Museum on the waterfront, which we had to visit, and where we learned of its history beyond shrimping.
The older town still exists – a bit of a backwater, with dirt streets, and an appealingly informal and sometimes decaying quality, compared to the spiffiness of the new town.
It also houses the only piece of domestic modern architecture I spotted, probably by an architect who took Corbusier’s praise of ocean liners a little too literally.
Bart and I recently visited Fernandina Beach as well, so it is interesting to learn a but more of the history behind the town even after the fact! Happy trails to you all. We are currently in White Springs, FL… Way down upon the Suwannee River. A few architectural gems here as well! Happy trails to you and Greta! 🙂
Nice to hear from you, and that you’re proceeding along on your trip too! We were just in Austin, had a great time, but couldn’t fit all the barbecue places in. We did Smitty’s in Lockhart on our way out of town. And also Valentina’s bbq tacos. Amazing!
Wow, this is an amazing place. So here is a question for you, how come the south, a place built on slavery, have such an incredible collection of cool old buildings? I know that the wealth from slavery is part of it, but the architecture is pretty great just about everywhere you go, but not so much in the north. This has always perplexed me and still does. There seems to be some kind of cultural tradition embedded in the south that stresses design in some sense (not withstanding modern stuff). The endless rows and rows of fabulous old houses with big porches, lovingly cut wood detailing and amazing colors is very impressive.