Monday, November 9, 2009

Amelia Island Lodging

Amelia Island visitors relax in Victorian splendor

By Robert Tolf Special to the Sun-Sentinel

When you next head north, plan to break the trip with an excursion to Amelia Island, named by a Georgia governor to honor the daughter of his sovereign, King George II. Its main settlement, Fernandina Beach, claims to be the second-oldest city in the country, after St. Augustine.

Amelia Island has flown the flags of eight different occupying powers: French, Spanish, British, American, both the Confederacy and the Union, Mexican and the Green Cross of Florida, run up the pole by a colorful, conquering Scot whose minuscule force of half a hundred was too small to out-bluff the Spanish. The Mexican banner was raised by a ragtag crew of filibusters who invaded a settlement characterized by President Monroe as a "festering fleshpot," with bars and bordellos and a busy port, terminus of Florida's first cross-state railway. The depot now serves as Chamber of Commerce and welcome center. It's the place to pick up your walking tour map of the 30-block center of town (on the National Register of Historic Places).

In the welcome center you can also pick up information on where to find the best shrimp in a town where the modern shrimping industry was invented (and where, the first weekend in May, there's a popular Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival). You can also pick up information on another island specialty -- the dozen or so bed-and-breakfasts that will ease you into aappreciation of the rich Victorian heritage.

Here are some of my favorites -- all of which have private baths, temperature control and other modern conveniences (inquire about children, pets and whether smoking is permitted):

Bailey House (28 South St.; 904-261-5390; 800-251-5390): The first of many magnificent mansions in town that were converted to B&Bs, this three-story Queen Anne is in the Historic District. It was built in 1895 for the agent of a local shipping company, who no doubt used local boat builders and ships' carpenters to carve the railings and the imposing mantelpiece emblazoned with the words "Hearth Hall, Welcome All." Of the 10 antique-furnished rooms, my favorite is the upstairs Rose Room with its distinctive bay window framed by a large turret, beautifully carved mahogany king-size bed, and a white tile bath with pedestal sink and clawfoot tub. The full breakfast is served in the formal dining room and the rates range from $99 to $150.

Amelia Island Williams House (103 S. Ninth St.; 800- 414-9257): This 1856 antebellum jewel was transformed into a B&B in 1994 by a pair who furnished the rooms -- framed by two floors of wraparound porch shaded by giant oaks -- with a world-class collection of antiques and artifacts, many from China. The drama begins in the oversize entry hall with its sweeping mahogany staircase graced by a giant crystal chandelier and caressed by stained-glass windows. Three of the eight guest rooms have working fireplaces and hand-carved mantels, and some have Jacuzzis. My favorite, the blue Chinese Room, is all cherry facing a large bay window where you can sit and marvel at the tranquillity. The full breakfast is served on antique china and sterling silver while you sit on Chippendale chairs. Rates range from $145 to $225.

Elizabeth Pointe Lodge (98 S. Fletcher Ave.; 800-772-3359): This seaside nugget of Nantucket, with its shake shingles, Dutch pitched roofs, gables and paned windows, would be at home in Cape Cod (where the Atlantic is not quite so inviting). A dozen of the 25 guest rooms have Jacuzzis and others have king-size marble tubs. All are only a few steps from the beach. The bountiful breakfasts are served buffet style, and the inn provides mini lunches. Rates are $125 to $235.

The Fairbanks House (227 S. Seventh St.; 800-261-4838): Traditionally known as "Fairbanks' Folly," this imposing two-story Italianate villa is overloaded with bays and balconies, decorative chimneys and eyebrow dormers, columned piazzas and Palladian windows, gables and porches, and a Renaissance tower with hip roof. There are 11 fireplaces and 16 rooms. The mansion, now on the National Register, was designed by the same architect who did the city's splendid St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Fairbanks was a native New Yorker -- but a major in the Confederate Army -- and a historian, newspaper editor, textbook author and then citrus grower, prospering to the point where he could afford this unique escape, which has a dozen accommodations in the main house and cottages. Full breakfasts are served on the porch overlooking the gardens or in the handsome high-ceilinged dining room. Evening social hour is a perfect time to sit in front of the fireplace, with its special tiles depicting various scenes from Aesop's Fables and Shakespeare. Rates range from $150 to $250 and there is no smoking, in the buildings or on the grounds.

Florida House Inn (20 & 22 S. Third St.; 800-258-3301): This 15-room memory bank bills itself as "the oldest continually operating inn in the state." The B&B its first guest three years before the War Between the States. Built by the Florida Railroad a few blocks from the depot/welcome center, it housed such dignitaries as the Rockefellers, President Grant and the Carnegies, who were building their own mansions across the water on Cumberland Island. But the most important visitors in recent years have been the Warners, Bob and Karen, who arrived in 1991 to do a complete makeover, modernizing the rooms and opening a cozy pub and an informal restaurant, where bountiful breakfasts are served as well as other meals -- all boardinghouse style. Rates range from $70 to $160.
Copyright © 2009, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

John Holbrook - Realtor Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach & Yulee, Florida
Cell: 904-415-0171 Email: Web:

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