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by Kathryn Lemmon, Wedding Zone Staff Writer
When it comes to Florida place names, Amelia Island might be a Final Jeopardy question on my favorite game show. It's not well-known, but the small, friendly spot welcomes honeymooners.
All told, eight national flags have been hoisted above Amelia Island. There can't be many places in the U.S. with such a claim. Various groups have coveted the territory; French and Spanish, Rebel and Confederate, the list goes on.
Long on history, this thirteen and a half mile island lies off the Northeast coast of Florida, near Jacksonville. The town of Fernandina Beach is the main population center.
Back in the early 1800s it was a rough and tumble haven for smugglers trading in rum and slaves. A thriving black market developed peopled with cutthroats, pirates and an assortment of ner-do-wells. President James Monroe put it succinctly when he called Fernandina Beach a "festering fleshpot."
The Golden Age for Amelia Island was in the late 1880's. It was a prosperous time, when Fernandina had a much kinder nickname, the Newport of the South.
As so often happens, the railroad changed the fate of the island. The train actually diverted passengers further south to Miami and Palm Beach, thus leaving little Amelia to languish. Fortunately for us, old buildings were repaired, rather than demolished and their architectural heritage was preserved.
If you prefer your history more hands-on, Fort Clinch should be on your itinerary. In 1935, the state purchased the abandoned fort, along with over 250 acres, with plans to convert the area into a park. By 1938 it was open and people have been visiting since. At the fort, history walks and talks, as park rangers wearing Union uniforms carry out the daily chores of the 1864 garrison soldier, from cooking to sentry duty.
The Natural World
Conservation is important to the folks on Amelia Island. You can enjoy a guided nature walk around Willow Pond and through a coastal maritime hammock at Fort Clinch. Located on the Atlantic Flyway, Amelia Island is a convenient stopping point for a variety of migratory birds.
One of the best walks is the Egan's Creek Greenway, which has two hiking trails through 238 acres of environmentally sensitive wildlife habitat.
As they have done for centuries, endangered Loggerhead turtles find the beaches of Amelia an ideal place to lay their eggs.
In the late fall and early winter, Northern Right whales return to the area to give birth and suckle their young. Lumbering and lovable, the West Indian manatee can be found mainly in the Intracoastal Waterway between spring and fall.
Get Out and Play
In terms of recreation, the island is known for it's fine beaches and for golf. A resort called Amelia Island Plantation in particular, has three outstanding golf courses.
The Plantation covers 1,350 acres of the island and golfers rave about the setting. The three golf courses, Long Point, Oak Marsh and Ocean Links are on the short list of courses given the certification of Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
When Long Point opened in 1987, it became Amelia Island Plantation's first fully conceived and constructed 18-hole golf course. It's now the resort's most recognizable course and recipient of the greatest amount of fame. Part of the course's renown is due the designer--Tom Fazio, one of the most popular names in golf course architecture. A more obvious explanation for the course's popularity is the natural beauty of the land. The layout is an ideal backdrop to showcase the island's scenic features.
The Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is held every year in May. You've got to love a festival which boasts a pirate invasion and a parade of shrimp boats. Witness the crowning of "Miss Shrimp" and of course devour shrimp morning, noon and night. Everyone gets involved and the downtown merchants put on special sales to entice customers.
Besides the annual festival, Shrimp has been important to Amelia Island for quite some time. Fernandina Beach is called the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry.
Other activities on the island
A 30-block area called the Centre Street Historic District revisits the turn of the century. The streets are lined with shops, cozy cafes, and boutiques.
To learn more, tour with a guide to see the impressive architecture of downtown and to hear animated stories of Amelia Island's illustrious history. Walk past private historic houses, churches and bed & breakfast inns, each with extraordinary legends.
Housed in the former jail, the Amelia Island Museum of History is worth a visit. The museum's newest offerings are Ghost Tours, which recount eerie, documented tales of haunted places on the island. Guides tell their stories while leading a 17-block walk through town. One stop is the Palace Saloon, still an active eating and drinking establishment, where the ghost of bartender "Uncle Charlie" is said to roam.
Several Island bike shops rent bicycles to guests, and resort properties can arrange bike rental on- or off-site. Fort Clinch has mountain bike trails, and guests can also enjoy beach rides or trail rides through the maritime forests. The Amelia Island Plantation has seven miles of trails throughout its property.
One of only a handful of beach-riding opportunities in the nation, you can saddle up and take a ride on gentle, well-trained horses on Amelia Island. Kelly Seahorse Ranch offers four rides daily.
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