We had a wonderful, if initially VERY hot, day exploring Amelia Island/Fernandino Beach. We started out (after a very nice hotel breakfast) by checking out the state park at the island’s northern tip. Fort Clinch, unlike the Spanish Fort Matanzas, wasn’t even begun until this area was already firmly in U.S. hands, in the 1840s, and then only half-completed before the Civil War. It was only briefly in the hand of confederate militiamen, and then after 1862, a Union engineer’s unit was stationed there to complete the fort. We walked around and talked to the two re-enactors who were actually making coffee over a fire in the fireplace despite temperatures that were already in the upper 80s by 9:30. The fort wasn’t really used after the 1860s except for a very brief period in the Spanish-American war, but the location was sort of interesting and the little museum was fairly well done. We then checked out the fishing pier and the state park beach, and that was very pleasant – with our feet in the water it was a bit cooler, and that beach had some really awesome shells (we are very picky, looking for unusual shells like conchs, whelks and moon shells; I found a very beautiful new shell today that is called a banded tulip, as well as a couple of little conch shells, and I was very excited!). So that was a very pleasant walk.
It was about 11 by then and we went to the historic downtown from the island’s boom period in the 1870s-1890s. We parked the car, by the harbor & tiny railroad depot , found ourselves lunch (I tried a salad with a special type of fried oyster that Bruce had recommended, but I was not impressed with the oyster taste, so there’s a seafood I can easily leave behind), and then explored the town a little. Along the main street (Centre Street) there are a number of Victorian stores and churches, and then in the side streets, quite a lot of beautifully restored Victorian homes that belonged to the great men of the town during the era of the railroad connecting the deep harbor of Fernandino across Flordia to, as it happens, Cedar Key, where we just were on Tuesday. A senator-turned-traitor-to-the-Union called David Yulee, who built this railroad and was mentioned in several displays and museums today, had helped develop Cedar Key and the area down by Crystal River that we also visited just a couple of days ago, and the old sugar mill ruins that we saw there on Monday were actually owned by Yulee’s. It’s interesting to make these cross-connections in Florida history, about which we knew almost nothing beforehand. We ended our tour of the area (which is very touristy, but in a quiet, classy way – not like St. Augustine!) with a visit to a frozen yogurt shop and to the local museum, which made us get even more deeply into Florida’s history and the connections with what we’d already seen – there was a little display about the local Indians, and also about the Spanish that first settled the area and actually, as late as 1820, platted this other part of town that they never finished, and of which only an empty plaza in front of a no-longer existing fort remains. I was also intrigued to find out that there was, in pre-segregation Florida, a beach for African-Americans at the south end of the island, purchased by an early forerunner of the NAACP, so that there would be a beach available for black tourists. The display about African-American history also talked about a black matriarch who was freed by her owner/common-law husband only to own slaves herself and participate in the slave trade that was possible legally until 1820 on the island because it was not under US rule at the time, but still under Spanish control. If we had more time here, I would have liked to go the plantation where she lived and ruled.
We were good and tired after this much walking around in the heat (with intermittent indoor AC breaks), and drove back to the hotel for a nice cool rest before dinner (at the same place as last night, across the street right by the beach) and a nice 2-hour walk on the beach afterwards. We saw some storm clouds and were briefly drizzled on, but then also got to see a rainbow over the ocean and ended up walking in sunshine for another 45 minutes before the sun went down. It was a great day, and we are really glad that we decided to stay the extra night and take our time here. We’re only a stone’s throw from Georgia (the settlement and islands visible from the Fort and from the historic downtown are already part of Georgia), but I think we would have been rushed trying to explore that in addition to Amelia Island itself.