Fernandina: A Victorian town

TAKE A WALK in Fernandina on Florida’s Amelia Island, and you’d swear you were back in the 19th century.

Located on Florida’s northernmost barrier island fifty miles from the Georgia border, Fernandina at one time was called the “Queen of the Summer Resorts.” Wealthy residents of New York and other East Coast cities flocked to the island to enjoy its ocean breezes and leisurely southern lifestyle.

Once the East Coast’s southernmost deep water seaport, the island relied upon shipping, shrimping and tourism to shape its economy after the Civil War. The Mallory Steamship line and the train brought thousands of northerners from New York to enjoy the Florida climate.

The building boom that followed the prosperity of the Gilded Age, attracted the scions of industry like the Vanderbilts, the DuPonts and the Carnegies, who often arrived aboard their own floating mansion yachts. Many of these wealthy families built elegant homes here.

The Bailey House

OVER THE YEARS, as other seaports developed along Florida’s coasts, and Henry Flagler’s train extended southward, the economy of the island faltered. It became the land developers bypassed, leaving a wealth of preserved houses and buildings that foster the tourism industry of today.

Modern transportation didn’t intrude upon the island until 1948, when a wooden bridge was constructed at the south end of the island linking it to Rt. A1A, a roadway running along Florida’s coast with few interruptions. In 1978 a concrete bridge at the northern end of the island was constructed to provide easy access from I-95. In 1999, the 50-year-old bridge at the south end was replaced with a safer, concrete structure.

On any street in Fernandina today, you’ll find rambling Victorian homes, wide verandas, lovely gardens and moss-draped live oaks  that form the basis of a grand historic district of 50 blocks, replete with 400 National Register historic buildings.

My husband and I discovered the island about fifteen years and we’ve been “snowbirding” here during the winter ever since. Each time we drive across the main bridge to the small 13-mile-long island, we feel as though we’ve entered another era of America’s history.

DURING THE GOLDEN AGE of Amelia Island, 1870 to 1910, many of the country’s wealthy built elegant Victorian houses here. We delight in bringing our guests to view the many grand old Queen Annes, charming Victorian cottages, bungalows and other Victorian houses found all over Fernandina, some still owned by descendants of the sea captains, merchants and businessmen who built them.

Many more of these lovely old Victorians are now bread and breakfast inns, their many historic rooms painstakingly restored to their original beauty by their owner-innkeepers.

It seemed natural for me to want to set an historical romance novel on this beautiful island setting. After some research in the Amelia Island Historical Museum library, a germ of an idea grew and flourished. The result is The Captain’s Temptress, a steamy swashbuckler action adventure romance, which opens in Fernandina among the fabulously wealthy who might have been among its seasonal residents in 1895.

SEAN NOLAN, the son and heir to the shipping empire of a Boston Beacon Hill family, has taken his parents to their winter home on the island aboard the family schooner steam yacht, the Raven. A 230 foot, 3-masted vessel, the ship would have easily melded into the milieu of huge yachts of the day found at the wharf or anchored out in the Amelia River or Cumberland Sound. With the telegraph in place, it wasn’t that difficult to operate a shipping empire from Fernandina for a few short weeks.

It is here in his father’s study, Sean learns of the financial crises facing his family’s 100-year-old business, forcing him to accept a lucrative, but illegal, contract to deliver war materials to freedom fighters in Cuba. Complicating his perilous journey is the appearance of Samantha Ethridge, a newspaper reporter, who overhears his illicit contract negotiations, and blackmails her way onto his ship.

While the larger part of this dangerous journey takes place at sea and in Cuba, the beginning chapters are grounded in Fernandina’s history and the lifestyle of those who might have lived here at the time.

The Fairbanks House

For the Nolan home, I chose the Fairbanks House, originally owned by George Rainsford Fairbanks, editor of the Florida Mirror, in Fernandina. Oddly enough, Samantha Ethridge is the daughter of the editor of the Fernandina Sun in my book. Though I’ve never been in the Fairbanks House, my descriptions are based on what I imagined the house might have looked like, and not upon actual fact.

The Captain’s Temptress is currently available for the Kindle and Nook and will be available in print soon. Click here for more information.

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