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Fernandina Beach

Nassau County

Year Founded: 1811Previously known as: Fernandina

History

Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island, which is known as the Isle of Eight Flags. The island has flown under eight different flags, including the French, Spanish, British, and United States flags, as well as the Patriot, Green Cross, Mexican Rebel and Confederate flags. The first European visitors from France arrived in 1562. The original site of the town of Fernandina, named after King Ferdinand VII of Spain, Old Town has the unique distinction of being the last Spanish city platted in the Western Hemisphere. Retaining the 1811 plat, as well as the historic homes in the area, is of special importance. Old Town has a swashbuckling history, home to pirates, sea captains, and rebels due to its location as a Spanish territory across the river from the United States, which provided easy smuggling opportunities.

When David Yulee, one of Florida’s first United States Senators and the first Jewish Senator, established the first cross-state railroad running from Fernandina to Cedar Key in the 1850’s, the town shifted from Old Town Fernandina to its present location. Buildings in the Downtown district reflect this late 19th and early 20th century development. Fernandina began to grow during the post-Civil War era, as soldiers and their families returned to build homes and businesses.

Fernandina blossomed as a tourist destination in the late 19th century and a commercial shrimping and fishing community in the early 20th century, but as major tourism and industry boomed elsewhere, the town settled into a quiet period. This downtime served to protect many of the unique historic structures that characterize the community. It was not until the later 20th century that the town experienced renewed interest, due in part to major resort development south of town.

Story of City's Founding

Fernandina Beach is located on the north end of Amelia Island. Fourteen miles long and four miles wide, Amelia Island is the northernmost of Florida's barrier islands. The town of Fernandina was named in honor of King Ferndinand VII of Spain on January 1, 1811, while still a part of the Spanish province of East Florida. Surveyor George J. F. Clarke platted the town in classical grid form in accordance with the 1542 Spanish Law of the Indies. Fernandina was intended to be a barrier to the expansion of the United States. After the Embargo Act of 1807 cut off the U.S. from international trade, Fernandina became a haven for smugglers and Spain found it difficult to maintain control. By 1817, President James Monroe had become frustrated enough with the situation to send in the U.S. Navy to take control of Amelia Island, promising to hold it in trust for Spain. In 1821, the Adams-Onis Treaty made Florida a U.S. territory, and in 1825 Fernandina became an incorporated city. In 1853 David Yulee effectively moved the whole town one mile south while building Florida's first cross-state railroad to Cedar Key, because he felt that the original site (now known as Old Town) was too marshy for railroad tracks. Yulee re-platted the city in its current location in accordance with his vision of making Fernandina the "Manhattan of the South". In 1951, Fernandina became Fernandina Beach, in an effort to highlight the town's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

Little Known Facts

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