2015 Great Places of Florida Winner: Fernandina Beach

In 2015, eight nominations were received and narrowed down to four finalists by a panel of multidisciplinary experts. More than 3,500 People’s Choice votes were received this year, with 42 percent of the votes naming Downtown Fernandina Beach as the 2015 Great Place in Florida Award. The contenders included: Downtown Lake Worth, Gaines Street District in Tallahassee and Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland.

We congratulate Downtown Fernandina Beach and all of the nominees this year. We invite Florida residents to celebrate the places they appreciate and enjoy by nominating them for the 2016 Great Places in Florida award.

HISTORIC DOWNTOWN FERNANDINA BEACH

Here’s Fernandina Beach’s submission to the Great Places selection committee:

Stories of the past beckon from every corner of Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach. This enchanting Victorian seaport village was once a stomping ground for pirates, Gilded Age millionaires, bootleggers, shrimpers, and other colorful characters. Today, the National Historic District spans over 50 blocks and is rich with eclectic shops, a diverse mix of restaurants, and lovingly preserved architecture. Tour in a horse-drawn carriage, book a room in one of the elegant B&Bs, or take a boat ride from the harbor to watch the sunset. Snap a picture in front of a statue of a pirate or one with David Yulee, known as the Father of the Florida Railroad who designed downtown to make it “the Manhattan of the South.” He sits in front of the historic Train Depot, now the Amelia Island Welcome Center where historic preservation meets 21st century technology, all enabled by friendly ambassadors.

Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach is a located within the City of Fernandina Beach. According to the 2010 census, the city population was 11,487. It is the seat of Nassau County. Fernandina Beach is located at 30°24′04″N 81°16′27″W,[18] approximately 25 miles (40 km) northeast of downtown Jacksonville. The city has a total area of 15.7 square miles and is the northernmost city on the eastern coast of Florida.

Buildings in the Downtown Historic District are striking examples of the most prominent architectural styles of the 19th and early 20th century. It has been recognized as one of “The Best Beach Towns in Florida” (HuffingtonPost.com, 2014) and “America’s Quirkiest Towns” and “America’s Most Romantic Towns” (Travel & Leisure, 2014)

The community of Fernandina Beach is an active and eclectic one, with a thriving arts scene (multiple theatres and art galleries plus a pocket park commemorating arts organizations) and the very special Pirate Playground, accessible to children of all physical abilities, which was made possible by a non-profit grass-roots community organization working in partnership with the City, a second playground is now under development by the same team with the support of the City Commission. At the edge of downtown, the city maintains the hauntingly beautiful Bosque Bello Cemetery, “Beautiful Woods,” said to have been established by the Spanish in 1798.

Historic Downtown regularly hosts special events, including the storied Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, commemorating Fernandina Beach’s role as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry and drawing over 100,000 visitors every first weekend in May. The Concours d’Elegance draws classic automobile fans from around the globe, and Petanque America Open is held on the waterfront each year (free pickup games take place twice a week.) From April through October, free concerts take place once a month as a part of the Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach Association’s “Sounds on Centre” series. All year long, visitors and residents enjoy the wide range of restaurants and unique shops, many set in historic buildings.

It is set on Amelia Island, which has been inhabited for centuries, starting with the Timucuan Indians who settled around 1000 AD. The island has been under eight different flags since 1562 – the only United States location to have done so. (They are: France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States.)

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