The fairest of the isles
Amelia Island, the southernmost of the “Golden Isles” chain of barrier islands, claims title to the fairest of the isles — and its 13 miles of unsullied beaches and 40-foot dunes, lush golf courses and captivating old Victorian homes support the claim.
As the only territory in the United States under the dominion of eight different flags during the past five centuries, it absorbed much from each culture to become the multi-faceted region it is today.
It was not until the early part of the 20th century that Amelia Island, because of its natural deep-water harbor, gave birth to the modern shrimping industry. Today, nearly 80 percent of Florida’s Atlantic white shrimp are harvested in Amelia Island’s waters.
American Beach was developed in the 1930s by the founders of Afro-American Life Insurance as an oceanfront haven for African Americans during an era of rigid segregation. Today, American Beach remains a quiet, beachfront community and the first stop on Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.
A community of beachfront homes, luxurious condominiums and myriad golf courses, Amelia Island also boasts a 50-block section of tree-shaded streets lined with authentic and original Victorian homes. Their architectural styles range from the Florida Vernacular and Mississippi Steamboat to Queen Anne, Italianate and Chinese Chippendale. Many of these gracious homes have become plush inns and guest houses, giving rise to a thriving bed and breakfast industry.
The island is a national resort destination. The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, operates an AAA-rated, five-diamond resort and restaurant, and is the only hotel in the chain with a golf course on the property. Amelia Island Plantation offers both resort and residential communities carefully developed for a complementary relationship with native wildlife, secluded beaches, maritime forest and tidal marshes.
Amelia Island is about 15 minutes west of I-95 and about 30 minutes away from Jacksonville International Airport. Amelia Island has a median home price of $257,000. Some properties can go into the millions.
Amelia Island also is a getaway destination for Jacksonville-area residents, with many rental properties — including a lighthouse home — available by the weekend or week.
From yesteryear’s Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest, to Civil War-era Fort Clinch overlooking Cumberland Sound, to the modern-day splendor of Amelia Island Plantation and The Ritz-Carlton, Princess Amelia’s namesake isle is unique in its diversity.
Old-town, relaxed charm
Bordered by parks, buffered by natural wetlands, pristine rivers and alluring beaches, Fernandina Beach sits on the northern end of Amelia Island. As the second oldest city in the state of Florida, it is rich with history.
Once a bustling Victorian seaport, picturesque downtown Fernandina Beach harbors a treasure trove of history, antiques, fashions and restaurants. Buildings dating from 1873 to 1900, gas lantern replicas, wrought-iron benches and cobblestone walks lead to the marina filled with shrimp boats.
The 12-mile-long and 2.5-mile-wide island is surrounded by the Amelia River, the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Marys River and Nassau Sound. Nearly 10 percent of the land is dedicated to parks, and miles of beaches (all with public access and walkovers) are available to visitors, as well as several golf courses. Fort Clinch State Park, at the north end of the island, preserves 1,121 acres of beaches, dunes, nature trails, salt marshes and ponds. On the first full weekend of each month, visitors can observe Civil War re-enactors carrying out daily chores.
The Spanish influence is seen in its plaza and city plan. Florida’s oldest surviving tourist hotel, the Florida House Inn, remains in Fernandina and boasts of once having Ulysses S. Grant as a guest. Centre Street Historic District covers 50 blocks of restored 19th century Victorian homes, shops and restaurants.
One of the biggest festivals of the Southeastern coast honors the shrimping industry and the area’s history. The Isle of Eight Flags Fernandina Beach Shrimp Festival attracts 150,000 visitors during its spring weekend run.
The island’s principal industries include tourism, commercial and sport fishing, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Rayonier Inc. and The Ritz-Carlton, as well as a full-service hospital.
Golf is an attraction that brings thousands of visitors to Amelia Island each year. Fernandina Beach Golf Club on Bill Melton Road offers a 27-hole golf club within the city limits of Fernandina Beach. It is open to the public and is reasonably priced.
The average home price is $234,146, but intricate mansions and waterfront properties can go much, much higher.
Hilliard and Callahan
The backbone of America
Wide yards full of trees draped with Spanish moss hold homes with old-fashioned front porches, harkening back to a time when neighbors strolled and a community grew together through hard times as well as good. This is Hilliard and Callahan.
Ideally placed as bedroom communities to both Jacksonville and Kings Bay in Georgia, Hilliard and Callahan offer their own brand of family-oriented living within easy commuting distance. Just west of I-95 in western Nassau County, the “main drag” through both towns is U.S. Highway 1, a slightly sleepy, mostly two-lane road running north and south throughout the eastern portion of the country.
There are many small local businesses supporting the citizens of the area. Hilliard has one of the largest employers in Nassau County, the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Control Center. The median home price in Hilliard is $107,614.
Callahan residents are proud of a beautifully restored railroad depot. Flags fly in front of many businesses and homes, local football games at West Nassau and Hilliard high schools are attended even by those with no children in the schools, and churches are full on Sunday mornings. The median home price in Hilliard is $132,153.
On the go
As Territorial Representative to Congress and later as Florida’s U.S. senator, David Yulee had a presence in the area that is felt even to this day. His vision of a cross-Florida railroad with Fernandina as its east terminus was thought an outlandish idea in the early- to mid-1850s, but Yulee never wavered in his determination.
Neither the Civil War, incarceration in a federal prison nor the necessity of physically moving an entire town could deter Yulee from his goals of statehood for Florida and of cross-state commercial centers joined by his railroad tracks. Statehood came first. Then, Yulee’s Florida Railroad was completed in 1860, just before Florida’s secession from the Union.
After the Civil War came the depths. The Confederate Army ripped up Florida Railroad’s tracks to use for their own transport system and, by the end of the war, the railroad was in total disrepair. Yulee’s life was unraveling; in 1865, he was arrested and charged with treason. He served only 10 months and was freed in 1866, returning home to resurrect his beloved railroad. Eventually, Florida Railroad became the successful Atlantic, Gulf and West India Transit Co. with trains arriving daily bearing tourists from New York and other cities.
Nassau County’s largest unincorporated area with a population of about 12,000, Yulee consists primarily of residential neighborhoods and commercial development along State Road A1A.
Residential choices are numerous and range from planned communities, waterfront property and private tracts to an emerging rental market. Yulee is the fastest-growing residential market in Nassau County, with developments such as North Hampton, Lighthouse Pointe and Flora Parke providing a variety of housing options. The average home value in Yulee is $143,932.
Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Betty P. Cook campus and Yulee public schools are centrally located in the town. It is also home to several private schools and a community school providing social services.
John and Michele Holbrook 904-415-0171