I spent several hours poking in and out of Amelia Island’s shops, museums, and galleries, the majority of which branch off Fernandina Beach’s Centre Street. On one unusually crisp winter afternoon, I was amongst the flocks herding inside local businesses to cozy up. I had stumbled upon an adorable street front confectionery, Fantastic Fudge, and decided to indulge in some midday treats. This playful parlor topped my rich hot chocolate with housemade marshmallows, satisfying my sweet tooth while soothing my belly. Had it not been for the menu’s coffee drink inclusions or the clientele’s modern wardrobes, Fantastic Fudge’s brick walls could have placed themselves in any recent decade. Here, patrons could watch their takeaway goodies being made the old-fashioned way, perfected inside a copper kettle and teasingly cut on open air marble slabs.
Once warmed, I stepped back out onto Centre Street to continue my meandering. I peered inside antique stores and taverns, pirate merchandisers and cafes; their exteriors were strung together with an idyllic, made-for-a-movie threading. When my eyes caught The Book Loft, an independent book retailer, the aspiring author in me could not resist wandering inside. Upon entering, I spotted a young science fiction novelist hosting a meet-and-greet, surrounded by supportive friends and curious passersby. The gathering’s laughter and chatter rose above the towering bookcases, enlivening the entire loft. After my downstairs roundabout, I made my way upstairs to where the regional books and writers stocked the shelves. There, I flipped through buccaneer's tales and Victorian era diaries, haunting novels and bird watching guides - all tied by their geography.
For such a small town, I found Amelia’s arts and culture tapestry to be tightly knit. Even on this chilly day, the community gathered to nod one of its own, never factoring in the author’s age or inexperience. During my trip, I continually found this communal generosity layered into island’s endeavors: Every new initiative I experienced, from my visit to the budding Amelia Musical Playhouse to a pitstop at The Patio Place creperie, relished in intimacy.
After exploring The Book Loft, I strolled into The Gilded Dolphin Art Studios and Gallery. Gallery owner Lynne Pilkerton welcomed me into her studio office, gushing at the chance to share her Amelia story. Pilkerton admitted that she had once lost her artistic aptitude, rediscovering it after a chance encounter with a jovial, retired dance instructor. Years later and in search of teaching work, her husband set his eyes on Nassau County: The two fell for Amelia’s subtle charms and soon settled into their new, purpose-filled lives.
Only upon relocating to Amelia Island did Pilkerton pursue her lifelong dream to open an arts center - but it was not without setbacks: Finding tenants and restoring a decaying building almost broke her spirits, but she pressed on. Now, in a sunlit second-floor space overlooking the St. Marys River, she has found her “slice of paradise.
This idea of “paradise found” reverberates throughout Amelia Island, reflected time and again in its colorful history and personified by its residents. Visitors here can palpate Amelia’s devotion to its creative power and cultural confluence: It can be felt in their arts, as painters and sculptors pay homage to their maritime landscape. In can be felt in their literature, where mysteries unfold within Amelia’s grand Victorian homes. It can be felt in their theater, where eager volunteers transform an old bar into a thriving performance venue. Amelia Island’s humbly hosted musings may not have the fanfare big city attractions do, but they do have a social community whose undertakings will engage even the most jaded of travelers.