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Fernandina, Florida

Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers


This picturesque old city, one of the most interesting in Florida, lies on the Atlantic coast, about fifty miles northeast of Jacksonville, close to the Georgia line, being the northernmost point in the State. It is built on the west shore of Amelia Island, overlooking a broad bay which affords the finest harbor on the coast south of the Chesapeake Bay, and which gives it important commercial advantages. Vessels drawing twenty feet of water can cross the bar at high tide, and the largest ships can unload at the wharves. The Mallory Line of Direct Florida Steamers has its southern terminus at Fernandina, and the steamers of the Charleston and Savannah lines call here on their way to and from Fernandina. One of the most important railroads of Florida—the Atlantic, Gulf and West India Transit Railroad—begins at Fernandina and runs southwest across the State to Cedar Keys; and the Fernandina and Fernandina Railroad, recently completed, affords a short air-line route between these two cities. With such advantages, it is not surprising that the commerce of Fernandina is large and increasing. Immense quantities of fruits and vegetables are brought thither by the railways for shipment north; and there is an important export trade in lumber, cotton, and sugar.

Fernandina was founded by the Spaniards in 1632, and has an interesting history, over which, however, I have not time to linger. It is now a busy and prosperous place of about two thousand inhabitants, whose numbers are largely augmented by visitors during the winter season. It is built on a broad plain that rises gently from the shores of the bay, showing to fine advantage from the harbor. The streets are laid out at right angles, are wide and generally well kept, and are everywhere densely shaded with great oaks, magnolias, and similar evergreen trees. The business portion of the city contains some substantial structures; but the largest and finest buildings are the hotels. The Egmont Hotel is one of the finest in the South, and the Mansion and Riddell Houses are spacious and well kept, all being crowded during the season. The suburbs are very beautiful, the houses being for the most part tastefully constructed, and nearly always surrounded by ample grounds laid out in lawns and gardens, and covered with a tropical luxuriance of flowers and shrubbery. Quite a number of orange-groves are found in the vicinity, and opposite the Egmont House is an interesting grove of palmettos.

Crossing the island in a direction due east from the city, an attractive drive two miles long leads to the famous Amelia Island Beach, one of the finest in America, and affording an unsurpassed beach-drive of twenty miles. The beach is as smooth, as hard, and as level as a floor; and during the season it presents an enlivening sight, with its long lines of carriages and other equipages. Another charming ride may be enjoyed to Fort Clinch, a romantic old fortification situated on the extreme northern point of the island.

But of all the attractions of Fernandina and its vicinity the chiefest is " Dungeness," once the home of General Nathanael Greene, of Revolutionary fame, and now the property of General W. G. M. Davis. This noble estate was granted to General Greene by the State of Georgia, in recognition of his splendid services to the South, and is situated on Cumberland Island, about an hour's sail from Fernandina in a small steamer. Cumberland Island lies along the coast of Georgia, close to the Florida line, and is some eighteen miles long by about a mile in average width. On one side lies the broad Atlantic, and on the other is the sound, across which, at the distance of about a mile, is the mainland. Dungeness, so named by General Greene's wife, is situated at the southern end of the island, and includes about one third of its total area. The magnificent mansion was burned in the early part of the civil war, but the ruins still stand firm as a rock, the massive old coquinastone walls having actually been hardened by the fire. In the quaint old burying ground, some distance from the house, lie a number of the relatives of General Greene and his wife; and here is the tomb of "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, father of General Robert E. Lee.

On a charming morning in January, 1880, I visited Dungeness, and spent a couple of hours in wandering about the beautiful grounds, with their curious old gardens and fruit-groves. It was my second visit to the place, and I felt that I could exist there as a modern Robinson Crusoe, if need be, and never tire of its loveliness. Such teeming gardens; such brilliant flowers; such wide fields; such noble groves of grand old liveoaks and magnolias; such a tropical luxuriance of tangled vines; such broad, winding avenues, leading from the water to the house-park; such delightfully perplexing walks such a glorious sea-beach, the twin of that on Amelia Island; such oysters, lining the sound-shore in millions such game and fish; and such a clear, pure air—no, never could I tire of Dungeness!—dreamy, romantic, delicious, entrancing old Dungeness!

Excerpt from "Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers" by George M. Barbour. Published 1882 by D. Appleton and Company, New York.


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