When Europeans first arrived in Florida and Amelia Island, the Timucua Indians inhabitated the area known as Old Town. Occupying 40 acres between the Amelia River, Egans Creek and Bosque Bello cemetery this was the sight of early Spanish missions. In 1597 Father Micahel Aunon and his group were massacred after denouncing polygamy and angering local native inhabitants. Military outposts were later established. In 1808 the spansih controlled Amelia Island and a town began on the bluff looking over the Amelia River and near the entrance of Egan’s Creek. The US Embargo act prohibiting trade with England and France and the abolition of slavery was likely responsible for growth as Fernandina became a smuggler’s paradise with easy access to Georgia just across the Amelia River. In 1811, streets were set in place by Surveyor General Don Jorge Clarke within the 1573 Spanish Law of the Indies. Clarke placed a public plaza on the edge of the river known as Plaza de la Constitution. Although none of the original Old Town structures survived, the plaza, now called Plaza San Carlos still exists as a Florida State Park.
Last weekend, Old Town or the original Fernandina celebrated its bi-centennial with open houses, music, food, pirates and historic presentations. Deborah and I were able to visit and tour old town and it was interesting to see where it all started for Amelia Island and Fernandina. The U.S. purchased Florida from the Spanish in 1819, it became an official territory in 1821 and achieved statehood in 1845. The town of Fernandina was “moved” to the other side of the marsh in 1853 and renamed Fernandina Beach. This was accomplished at the urging of David Yulee to ease building of the railroad from Fernandina to Cedar Key on the gulf coast creating the first cross Florida access for trade. Old Town didn’t completely disapear as some of the sea captains found it to be a convenient location but the center of commerce clearly shifted to the new location. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and improved in 1998 with enhanced streets Old Town now has numerous residents who enjoy the tranquility, beauty and history it offers. In addition, archaelogical digs have confirmed it has been occupied by humans for thousands of years.
Shared below are the sights and history of Old Town as unveiled by last weekends celebration.