Amelia Island History
Amelia Island’s history is very rich. Early inhabitants of the island were the Timucuan Indians, and some vestiges of their civilization remain, including an ancient burial mound at Walker’s Landing. The French were the first Europeans to set foot here, in 1562. That was three years before the Spanish founded nearby St. Augustine. When the British occupied the island, immediately following the reign of George II, the name they gave it stuck. Since the mid-1700s, the pretty little island has borne the name of a pretty little princess, George II’s daughter Amelia. (The state of Georgia, by the way, was named for Amelia’s dad.)
In the late 19th century of Amelia Island’s history, it was a premier tourist destination in all of Florida, with direct steamship lines bringing thousands of vacationers from New York City for a sunny holiday. In Fernandina Beach, two large and elegant tourist hotels were usually fully booked with sun-seeking New Yorkers.
But once southern Florida became a major tourist magnet, the pace on Amelia Island slowed considerably. However, that’s one of its attractions.
Amelia Island Activities
The island is beautiful beyond belief, with a steady chorus of multiple varieties of birds twittering from overhanging moss-draped trees and lofty palms. Strict rules are in place for keeping the beach postcard-perfect (no walking on the dunes!) and for maintaining the plant, aquatic, bird and wildlife in the forest and marshes.
Going hunting for sharks’ teeth is not a disappointment at Amelia Island’s beaches. The clerk at the Ship’s Lantern, a souvenir shop in Fernandina Beach, can give you a tooth identification card for the mostly fossilized choppers that wash up on the beach. She says the optimal time for finding teeth is after a high tide or a storm.
Take a walking tour of Fernandina Beach’s historic district and, starting from the docks, which are renowned as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, Head up Centre Street. If you are quite serious about studying the Victorian architecture, stop into the The Palace Saloon(just to look, mind you), before you got distracted by all the fun shops. There is Go Fish, with clothing and jewelry; Twisted Sisters, with slightly clothing, jewelry and purses; Christmas on the River; three bookstores; and – the place a favorite of those with a big sweet tooth – Fernandina’s Fantastic Fudge.
Stephen Colwell, who has owned the shop for 24 years, and his employees make the eight flavors of fudge, hand-dipped chocolates and other candies fresh daily. Watch as he pours chocolate fudge from a copper kettle onto a marble-topped table, then spreads it with a long-handled paddle and even flips it high into the air before letting it cool in a mound.
Every May, the Shrimp Festival turns Fernandina Beach into party central. During a parade through town and other festivities, part of the fun is to see how everyone has incorporated the shrimp theme into their costume or parade entry. Everybody on Amelia Island has their favorite shrimp recipe, and serious shrimp lovers line up at the dock to buy part from the fresh catch as the boats come in.
Enjoy appetizers and meals of shrimp several times when you order it off the menu at the restaurants at Amelia Island Plantation. After you vacation here, its taste will conjure up fond memories of a beautiful, restful place in Florida.