Amelia Island celebrates Black History Month as an opportunity to take a look back and experience the depth of African-American history and heritage on our storied coast. From Old Town Fernandina where the Middle Passage was a stage in the route slave ships took from Africa to America, to American Beach where businessman A.L. Lewis created a safe haven for people of color to experience a judgement-free beach vacation, there are dedicated tours, historical sites and museums that tell this story to visitors of our island. Come with us as we learn, celebrate and memorialize African American history on Amelia Island.
Check in to the Amelia Island Williams House your home away from home for the next 3 days as you meander through history. Now an award-winning bed & breakfast in historic downtown Fernandina Beach, the Williams House was built in 1856 and named for Marcellus A. Williams, a wealthy surveyor. During the Civil War when Union troops occupied Fernandina and took over his residence, Williams took his family and fled until it was safe to return — upon which he became active in the Underground Railroad. It is said that Williams opened his home as a safe house for fleeing slaves and hid them there.
Save a big appetite for lunch! Your first stop is a long-standing Amelia Island eatery that has been serving up the finest barbeque and good ol southern cooking for over 30 years. Honoring the centuries-old art of cooking meat over an open fire pit, Island BBQ is a family-owned restaurant and a “go to” for locals and visitors alike. If you’re looking for a small town diner — big with flavor — this is your spot.
Make your way downtown for a day of shopping and sightseeing. The old Train Depot/ Visitor’s Center at the foot of Centre Street harbors a wealth of knowledge about our island and it’s history. Stop in and visit with the friendly staff who will send you on your way with tour information and all the “must see and do’s”. With a historic district of 50-plus blocks, you’ll find yourself transported back in time. Downtown Fernandina Beach features 400-plus historic structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk by Victorian homes, commercial buildings and churches like New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, the second oldest and largest Black Missionary Baptist Church on Amelia Island, the lovely Macedonia AME Church, founded in 1872 by Samuel Irving, and Trinity United Methodist Church which was erected in 1891 and served the African-American population of Amelia Island during the time of segregation in the south.
Are you ready for a fun sightseeing excursion? Amelia River Cycle offers you a different perspective of the island — by water! Hydro Bikes give you a real biking experience in the wide open Amelia River along with the freedom to explore nature and marine life with family and friends. They are easy to ride and come complete with blue tooth speakers so you can listen to your favorite tunes while making memories on the water.
INSIDER TIP: If you’re not sure about pedaling by yourself, rent a tandem hydro bike and pedal with a friend.
For good vibes, good beer and really good pizza, stop at First Love Brewing to end the day. With over 20 rotating taps, First Love offers a mix of porters, IPA’s and ales that pair terrifically with their house-made artisan pizzas, wings or truffle fries. Dine/drink at the bar or grab a table indoors or outdoors for more privacy. The best part is it’s right across the street from The Williams House!
Enjoy a great cup of coffee and southern home-cookin’ at Bantam & Biddy located on the south end of the island. They serve breakfast all day so there’s no rush — but get there early any way, the Fried Chicken and Cheddar Waffle is waiting for you. Add the homemade bourbon-pecan syrup to it. Trust me.
Take a journey through time with Coast One Tours of American Beach where your tour guide, Ron Miller (pictured above), has made it his mission (and passion) to educate and share the history of how and why American Beach and nearby Franklintown were founded. An oasis for Black beach-goers in a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws prevented them from sharing beaches, American Beach, founded by African-American businessman A.L. Lewis, was home to a number of restaurants, hotels, night clubs, shops and more. The resort town thrived until 1964, when Hurricane Dora devastated the area. Today, visitors can enjoy the beach, see famed NaNa dune (this dune system is the tallest in all of Florida and is amazing to see) and visit the A. L. Lewis Museum to learn more about the African-Americans who found triumph over segregation and disenfranchisement. One such person is MaVynee Betsch, better known to all as “The Beach Lady”. So much amazing history here.
Grab lunch at KP’s Restaurant serving up homemade deliciousnesss including salads, their signature Swahili wings, mouth-watering sandwiches, steaks, seafood, and desserts to die for!
INSIDER TIP: Their famous Wild Turkey Sandwich is made with sliced baked turkey breast, banana peppers, cheddar and cream cheese — baked and served open faced.
Located about 20 minutes south of American Beach, in Duval County, Kingsley Plantation is one of the only examples of a plantation system in Florida today, where visitors can explore the slave quarters, kitchen house and interpretive gardens. The plantation was built in 1798 and named for early owner Zephaniah Kingsley, who lived there with his family until 1837. But the Kingsley story doesn’t end there. Kingsley’s wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, was a slave purchased from Senegal, West Africa. Zephaniah and Anna would become the grandparents of A.L. Lewis who would later purchase and develop American Beach!
Cucina South offers fresh, authentic Italian-style cuisine featuring pasta, pizza, seafood, and an extensive beer and wine list. “Years of experience culminated with a passion for food, wine and love for people!” Literally everything here is good but try the Osso Buco for a mouth full of happiness. Located in Palmetto Walk Shopping Plaza on the south end of Amelia Island.
The bagels at Aloha Bagel & Deli are so good if you close your eyes you’ll think you’re at your favorite NYC deli. Committed to serving only the freshest most delicious bagels, Aloha Bagel & Deli claims to be the “best little bagel shop on Amelia Island” and I’m pretty sure they are. Try the Nova Bagel, toasted with plain cream cheese, Nova salmon, tomatoes, capers, and onions. You won’t be disappointed.
As a port city, Amelia Island’s history is full of stories of conquerors, pirates, merchants, and travelers. And, unfortunately, some of those stories include the dark history of human trade routes. The Middle Passage was a stage in the route slave ships took from Africa to America, forcibly transporting millions of Africans to the New World. In Old Town Fernandina, where the original town of Fernandina is located, a Middle Passage port marker now stands commemorating those who died in the crossing and the legacy of those who survived, along with their descendants. The Gullah Geechee people, descendants of Africans brought in through the Middle Passage, recognize Fernandina Beach as the southernmost island in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage corridor.
Make your way back downtown for a delightful lunch at 1928 Cuban Bistro. From mouthwatering roasted pork to perfectly fried tostones, every dish at 1928 Cuban Bistro is a testament to the rich traditions that shaped the owners. It’s all authentic Cuban cuisine, Cuban espresso, sandwiches, soups, salads, rice plates, and desserts.
Dedicated to the art of storytelling, the Amelia Island Museum of History is the first spoken history museum in Florida. The museum focuses on local Nassau County history and the evolution of tourism, industry, and the African-American life and influence here. Each year a group of local high school students make an exhibit at the museum and this year’s student exhibit features the history of local African-American schools in Nassau County — one of which is Peck High School. Learn about William H. Peck (of whom the school was named), a Howard University graduate who served as principal from 1888 until 1931 and made a huge difference in our community. The museum also mentions Amelia Island as the “birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in America.” Watch the clip below on one of our local shrimping heroes, Raymond Wilson.
On your last night on Amelia Island, make reservations to dine at España. With flavors that hail from Spain and Portugal, España never disappoints. Enjoy each other’s company (also the paella and sangria) in the cozy main dining room, on the enclosed patio or in the lush outdoor garden. Either way, Chef Roberto will make sure you leave with a full stomach and a happy heart.
These suggestions are just a sneak peek of all Amelia Island has to offer as you plan your Historic Getaway. Discover more and plan your perfect trip on www.AmeliaIsland.com for a complete list of places to stay, eat and play. We’re looking forward to seeing you back here for years to come.