The first roadtrip post I did was about State Road 20 through the panhandle. For the first post now that I’ve decided to make it a series, I’m going to go to the other side of the state. The east coast, that is. The focus will be on the northern end of A1A on Amelia Island, north of Jacksonville. It’s one of my top five scenical drives in Florida.
Amelia Island is butt up against the Georgia border. It comprises most of Nassau County. There are a few small towns scattered around the county, but the primary hub of activity and main tourist stop is the county seat, Fernandina Beach. Since it’s at the furthest northeastern part of the county, unless you want to take a boat, you can get there from the west or south.
The first stop is off State Road 200/A1A, heading east towards Fernandina Beach. When you get to County Road 107 (Old Nassauville Road), take a right and head south for 2.8 miles until you reach Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church (NRHP). It’s a little old church from the early days of Nassauville, the community in this area that used to be known as simply Nassau. (see Google map)
Get back to A1A and continue on to Fernandina Beach. You’ll cross a bridge over the Amelia River, and you’re on the city’s outskirts. It’s like most medium sized Florida towns for the next few miles. But suddenly, you’ll enter the historic district and you’ll see Victorian houses nearly everywhere you look. I think this may be the largest concentration of B&Bs in the state.
A few words about Fernandina Beach. Way back when, it was the north end of a railroad built by David Levy Yulee, from here to Cedar Key. Which is now an out of the way nook of old Florida charm. You can easily walk the historic district (which is most of downtown) and soak in the history, or take a carriage ride. The area has been inhabited by people for thousands of years. Europeans had a presence there as far back as the 1500s. Since then, eight flags have flown over the area. A couple of them I think are dubious, but apparently they’re credited by historians, so there you go.
Here’s a link to a map of the district (NRHP), so you can get the lay of the land. I’d recommend either parking kind of in the middle and walking around. Or parking in the southern half, walking around, then drive and park in the northern half and repeat. Or parking in the western half, walking around, then drive and park in the eastern half and repeat. If you want to get further info before you start your walking, hit the local history museum (233 South 3rd Street) and/or the visitor center (Centre Street on the waterfront). (see Google map)
You can walk the route I’ve shown through the historic district in about a half hour. Of course, how long you spend at each point is up to you. Probably at least a couple of hours will let you soak it in. and you know, if you like it you can always make a return visit. Like maybe for the shrimp festival in early May, which is a huge shindig.
You can find out about other festivals and such here.
There’s also an annual tour of some of the historic homes in December. Which is when a lot of the historic home tours tend to be. I guess it’s because the weather’s cooler, and Christmas decorations make the tours more festive.
Now, the points of interest (see Google map):
- Waas Home (AGFHA)
- Fairbanks House (AGFHA, NRHP)
- Amelia Island Museum of History (AGFHA, NRHP) – housed in the former Nassau County Jail
- Amelia Community Theatre – around the corner from the museum
- Egmont Houses (AGFHA) – built in 1901 from the lumber, and on the site, of the Egmont Hotel.
- Bailey House (AGFHA, NRHP)
- Tabby House (AGFHA, NRHP)
- Florida House (AGFHA)
Centre Street is the main street of the city, where many of the historic commercial buildings are concentrated. You can amble along and check out the shops, and get a bite if you’re feeling peckish. I’ve never eaten in Fernandina Beach (not sure why), but you could check out the Palace Saloon, the oldest continuously operated tavern in the state. It even stayed open through Prohibition, though they didn’t sell alcohol during those years. (see Google map)
Back to touring:
- Fernandina Beach Shrimping monument
- Fernandina Depot (Chamber of Commerce) (AGFHA)
- Seydel Building (AGFHA)
- Villas Las Palmas (AGFHA)
- Fernandez Residence and Cemetery (AGFHA)
- Post Office and Customs House (AGFHA)
- Dr. John Lesesne-Judge John Friend Residence (AGFHA)
- Nassau County Courthouse (Florida) (AGFHA)
- St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (AGFHA)
- Merrick-Simmons House (NRHP)
There’s a butterfly garden around here, but the last time I visited, it was overgrown. If you see signs for it, you have been warned.
Now it’s time for a short drive. From A1A, head north on 14th Street about 1-1/2 miles to the site of the original town of Fernandina (NRHP). There’s not much left, just a few old houses and the street arrangement. There’s also a state park on the shore of the Amelia River. It’s one of the freebies, so if you feel like having a picnic, it’s a nice spot for it. (see Google map)
Once you’re done, head back south to A1A for the last few to check out.
- John Denham Palmer House (NRHP)
- Amelia Island Lighthouse (NRHP) – by appointment only, call ahead to check availability
- Fort Clinch State Park (NRHP)
Now that you’re finished with Fernandina Beach, it’s time to head south down A1A. Here you’ll begin to see the beachy houses that can be found along the coast as least as far as Ormond Beach. The ones up here look the most weathered. Further along, you’ll see more trees. Mostly because you’ll be going through country clubs. After about 8 miles, look for Julia Street. Hang a left, and you’ll be in the American Beach Historic District (NRHP). (see Google map)
You’ll notice this is a stark contrast to the Fernandina Beach Historic District. The area is filled with dilapidated buildings. Ironically, civil rights was its downfall. In the days of segregation, certain areas became black-only vacation spots. American Beach was one of those. But once such restrictions became illegal, places like American Beach lost their allure. Many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair, and I feel it won’t be long before some developer snaps up this prime beachfront property, demolishes everything, and builds a bunch of condos. And another piece of history will be gone. So see it whilst you can.
Back to A1A and head south. In Fernandina Beach, you saw a couple of the state parks in the area. Now you get to see the other five. You’ll be driving through state parks the rest of the way, until you cross over into Duval County, Florida. And even there, you’ll find another one. Which is why I recommend this drive so highly, as it’s one of the prettiest and most relaxing in the state. I’ve never encountered heavy traffic, even though all the parks seem to be full whenever I visit. A favorite spot is a section of beach which, every time I’ve gone by, there are numerous people flying kites. Stop as often as you like, and drink in the mellow.
- Amelia Island State Park
- George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park
- Big Talbot Island State Park
- Little Talbot Island State Park
Ok, now that you’re in Duval County, look for Fort George Road. On the corner is an old house, which I photographed because I liked how it looked. After I got home, I realized it was the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward House, on the NRHP! So if you see something interesting that’s not on my itinerary, by all means, detour. Never know what you might find.
Heading north on Fort George Road, you’ll find several sites of interest. (see Google map)
- Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
- Fort George Island Cultural State Park
- St. George Episcopal Church
- Mission of San Juan del Puerto Archeological Site
- Ribault Inn Club
- Kingsley Plantation
Once you’ve seen as much of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve that’s north of the St. Johns River, you have a choice. By now, it should be near day’s end. To get home, head west. You can either continue until you get to I-95, or take the ferry south.
The Mayport Ferry, that is. It’s only about half a mile from the Broward House to the loading area. The ferry is one of the few left in the state, since the need for most has been superseded by bridges. The only other one I know of is the Fort Gates Ferry, and that can only carry two cars. The Mayport Ferry carries dozens.
The rates are fairly reasonable (about 5 dollars for a normal car). The ride itself is neat. I encourage you to get out of your car and walk around, taking in the view. Once you reach the south side, get back in your car and drive into Mayport. Technically, the whole time you’ve still been on A1A.
There’s a couple of interesting spots in Mayport. See below. And you can drive around the area (it’s small), and see some of the older buildings.
The down side of taking the ferry is that you have to contend with Jacksonville traffic for a while until you clear the city. Probably at least a half hour. If you’re not familiar with the area, it can be confusing, so be well-prepared with maps and/or GPS.
So ends this roadtrip. Hope you had fun, and see you on the road!
Route length: 35 miles