It's hard to picture the stately Victorian town of Fernandina Beach as a "festering fleshpot", pirates' hangout, and smuggling center for liquor and even slaves.
This lurid past, however, was well before the Golden Age that started in the 1850's, as thousands of Northerners traveled to Fernandina via a new railroad and steamship line. "The Queen of Summer Resorts" bloomed regally with fine homes, and establishments such as the Florida House Inn
which still welcomes guests.
Alas, by the end of the century, a new railroad was pulling the northerners further south. The town languished on the sidelines...
Which is a major reason its fine houses still stand today, many still passed down within the original families. The historic area of Fernandina covers eighteen blocks and includes some splendidly- refurbished B&B's.
Walking tours of Fernandina Beach
To sample Fernandina's past, head to the Museum of History
: an oral history museum, specializing in walking tours and storytelling formats. Remember, though, that historic walks aren't big with kids -- be sure to hit the ice-cream store on Center Street.
Fort Clinch State Park
was started in 1847 but never finished, and even during the Civil saw no battle action. As with Fernandina, history passed by, and left the Fort remarkably well-preserved today.
Visitors can stroll through barracks complete with narrow bunk beds. Kids will be impressed by the large cannons facing out to sea.
When we visited several actors were on hand, bringing history to life by pretending to be characters of the period. Check for tours
with volunteers who reenact life in 1864, back when Fort Clinch was occupied by troops.