Fernandina Beach, Florida - Historic Sites & Points of Interest
Fernandina Beach, Florida - Historic Sites ^ Points of Interest
|Fernandina Beach, Florida
The historic Chandlery Building, seen here, was
built in the 1870s and is one of more than 300
historic structures in the National Historic District.
Fernandina Beach, Florida
The architecture of the city is
among the best preserved
and most unique in all of
Fort Clinch State Park
Began in 1847, the historic
fort has been restored to
reflect military life in another
Fernandina Beach, Florida - Historic Sites & More!
Seaport built for a Railroad
|Copyright 2013 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: July 18, 2013
Historic Sites in Northeast Florida
Amelia Island Lighthouse
The historic tower has stood
on two different islands in two
different states during its
almost 200 years of history.
Dunes of Amelia Island
The island forms Florida's
northeastern most point,
projecting out into the Atlantic
One of the most beautiful cities in Florida,
Fernandina Beach lies on Amelia Island in
the very northeast corner of the state.
It is accessible from I-95 via Highway 200
(A1A) and is only 35 miles northeast of
Founded by the Spanish in 1811, the city first
stood one mile north of its present location.
Old Town Fernandina and Fernandina Plaza
Historic State Park can still be seen at the
Named for King Ferdinand VII of Spain, the
city covers around 10 square miles and is
home to just over 11,000 people. Its main
avenue, Centre Street, ends on the banks of
the Amelia River, which has been used as a
port by navies, pirates, smugglers and even
Fernandina came into being, in fact, as a way
for the Spanish to bring law, order and
prosperity to a growing but ramshackle
settlement on the norther end of Amelia
Island. They built a small fort where Old
Town stands today in 1801 and then ten
years later platted an orderly and regularly
Only one year after the city was founded,
however, it entered one of the most chaotic
decades ever experienced by an American
A group dubbing itself the Florida Patriots
struck an unlikely and secret bargain with
President James Madison. They would
foment an uprising in Spanish Florida, raise
the flag of an independent republic over the
colony and then immediately surrender the
coveted lands to the rapidly expanding United
Gen. George Mathews, a soldier of the
American Revolution, served as sort of a
secret agent for the United States in this
intrigue, basing his operations from the
nearby town of St. Mary's, Georgia.
The supposedly spontaneous revolution
broke out in March 1812 and Fernandina was
its first target. As U.S. gunboats came across
the harbor from Georgia, the Patriots staged
their uprising. Facing an overwhelming force,
the Spanish commandant - Don Justo Lopez
- surrendered on March 17, 1812.
The Patriots held Fernandina briefly before
surrendering it to the United States the next
day. In a space of less than 24-hours, the
flags of three different nations flew over the
city. They then went on to try to claim the rest
of East Florida, but their revolution stalled out
before the walls of the massive fort Castillo
de San Marcos in St. Augustine.
U.S. forces, who had invaded the province on
the heels of the staged revolution, found
themselves in a deteriorating situation.
Things got worse thanks to the outbreak of
the War of 1812 between the United States
and Great Britain and finally President
Madison gave it up and ordered all American
troops back across the St. Mary's River.
Spain reoccupied Fernandina and the Patriot
Revolution was crushed.
The first U.S. invasion of Florida lasted only
Spain immediately built Fort San Carlos on
the plaza in Old Town, completing it in 1816
just in time for it to be seized by the Scottish
adventurer Gregor MacGregor the following
year. He declared Fernandina the new capital
of his "Republic of the Floridas."
Promised volunteers and supplies from the
United States failed to materialize, however,
so MacGregor loaded up his ship and sailed
away. He left Fernandina in the hands of
fewer than 100 men who held the town under
his "Green Flag of Florida."
The Spanish returned on September 12,
1817, attacking the remnants of MacGregor's
forces - minus their commander - from the
land and sea. The attack, known today as the
Battle of Amelia Island, failed.
Four days later, however, the pirate Luis Aury
arrived in the harbor with an overwhelming
force. Temporarily sailing as a privateer with
a letter of marque from the Republic of
Mexico, Aury negotiated an agreement with
MacGregor's men and became commander
in chief of Fernandina. He raised the flag of
the Republic of Mexico over the fort and for a
brief time, the city became part of Mexico!
Watching the situation from across the St.
Mary's River, the United States to make
another attempt to take Amelia Island. Under
orders from President James Monroe, U.S.
forces moved on Fernandina in December
1817. Aury surrendered and was allowed to
This time, the American occupation was for
good. Over the decades that followed,
Fernandina continued its emergence as an
important seaport. This led to a lighthouse
project that was among the most unique in
The Cumberland Island Lighthouse,
originally built just across the mouth of the St.
Mary's, was dismantled and moved across
the channel to become the Amelia Island
Lighthouse. So far as is known, it is the only
American lighthouse ever to have stood on
two different islands in two different states.
Fort San Carlos in Old Town was allowed to
deteriorate, but in 1847 construction began
on Fort Clinch. A massive Third System fort, it
is now the focal point of a Florida state park.
By 1853, the city of Fernandina had been
occupied under 5 different flags (not counting
the French and English, who came before it
was founded). That year, no other occupying
forces came, but the entire town picked up
Sen. David Levy Yulee, builder of Florida's
first cross-state railroad, announced that
Amelia Island would be the eastern terminus
of his line. Old Town Fernandina, however,
was too cut off by marshes to be used as a
terminal and Yulee announced plans to end
his railroad on the banks of the Amelia River
one mile to the South. Rather than let a new
community grow there and surpass their
town, the leaders of Fernandina agreed to
pick their town up and move it to the railroad.
The town was rebuilt where it stands today
and Yulee began construction of his railroad
in 1855. It was completed in 1861 and the
first train steamed into Fernandina as the
dark clouds of the coming War Between the
States loomed over the South.
Florida seceded from the Union on 1861 and
state militia forces occupied Fernandina. Fort
Clinch was then still under construction and
the state forces did not interfere with them so
they continued work on the fort - at the
expense of the U.S. Government. The fort
was not occupied by Southern forces until
after the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April.
The Confederates erected batteries on the
northern end of Amelia Island, but the money
and material needed to strongly fortify the
port was not available. Early in 1862, Gen.
Robert E. Lee - then commanding coastal
defenses of the Deep South - ordered the
cannon and troops withdrawn.
Lee's orders came too late. Confederate
forces were still removing their cannon when
the Union army and navy appeared offshore.
There was no way the Southern troops could
defend Fernandina - and no reason for them
to do so since they were leaving anyway - so
they carried out a hasty evacuation. A Union
gunboat fired on the last train to leave the city,
even though it was piled high with civilians.
The Federals then moved in and for the last
time another nation raised its flag over
Amelia Island. Over the course of its history,
the flags of eight different nations had flown
over the island.
Fernandina rebounded after the Civil War,
rebuilt after a devastating fire and continues
to thrive today. It is a place of shady streets,
beautiful architecture, sparkling water and
sunshine. Now a major resort area with a
strong economic base, it is one of Florida's
great historic communities.
The Fernandina Beach National Historic
District encompasses nearly 2,500 acres
and includes more than 300 historic
structures. The Amelia Island Museum of
History, located in the renovated old jail, is a
great place to begin your journey into the
Please click here to learn more about visiting
Fernandina Beach, Florida.
The Florida Railroad
Florida's first Atlantic to Gulf
railroad ran from Fernandina
Beach to Cedar Key. The
1899 station is now the
Chamber of Commerce.
National Historic District
The Fernandina Beach
National Historic District has
over 300 noteworthy homes
and structures and covers
nearly 2,500 acres.
Ecotourism on Amelia
Fernandina Beach is the
center of one of the most
beautiful islands in the world.
It offers beaches, history and
spectacular natural scenery.