From the northern terminus, located in Callahan, it doesn’t take long to arrive at the first major destination of A1A: Fernandina Beach (less than 30 miles). Located on Amelia Island, Fernandina offers a mix of true beach culture and Old Florida charm. Here, palm and live oak trees both appeal to travelers.
On the island, A1A enters from the west, crossing the Amelia River and continuing east for a couple of miles before turning northward for almost three miles as South 8th Street then making a right turn toward the Atlantic Ocean, where it continues for just under two miles as Atlantic Avenue. There, it makes that first official turn south, continuing as South Fletcher Avenue.
It is as though A1A must show off Amelia Island, as it should. You will want to hang around for at least a couple of days, and if you plan on doing so, choose one of the many bed and breakfast options. Assuredly, your stay will be in one of the over 400 structures—mostly Victorian-era style within a historic district that encompasses over 50 blocks—that are part of the National Register of Historic Places.
If you turn left instead of right onto Atlantic Avenue, you will enter the main thoroughfare of Fernandina Beach’s downtown, Centre Street, where for seven walkable blocks you will find restaurants, bars, boutique shops, souvenir shops, antique shops, candy shops, ice cream parlors, historic buildings, pirate statues (don’t forget to get that photo with Peg Leg Pete), and a bookstore with a whole section on the pirate lore that Fernandina Beach proudly exploits.
From the point where Centre Street and Atlantic Avenue meet, you can clearly see the water tower painted with the mascot logo of Fernandina Beach High School—home of the Pirates. There is even the Fernandina Pirates Club (you can hire a pirate). You can do this before or after being served a Pirate Punch from the former mayor of Fernandina Beach at the oldest bar in Florida, the Palace Saloon, located prominently on Centre Street.
But I digress.
Many sites along A1A will clearly reveal the quirky nature of the Sunshine State; Fernandina Beach is no exception. And here is one example—Kate’s Tree.
Kate’s Tree is located on Ash Street, one block south of Centre Street/Atlantic Avenue, just off the left of A1A (8th Street). It is one of the many live oaks found on the island; however, its distinguished spot—on the “center” of Ash Street—is the result of the willpower—and a shotgun—of Kate Bailey.
Here is an anecdote provided by the Amelia Island Florida website:
“Amelia Island is revered for its thirteen miles of wide, uncrowded beaches, but it’s the lush tree canopy and maritime forests that truly make it unique in Northeast Florida. One of its most famous trees, growing in the center of Ash Street in downtown Fernandina Beach, is better known as Kate’s Tree. Katherine “Kate” MacDonnell Bailey lived nearby in the “Bailey House” built in 1895 as a wedding gift from her husband, prominent businessman, Effingham Wagner Bailey. Local legend has it that when Kate learned the tree would be cut down for the expansion of Ash Street, she sat on her front porch, shotgun in hand, threatening to shoot any workers who attempted to destroy the tree. Kate’s will and determination persuaded officials to pave the street around the tree, preserving it for visitors to enjoy over a century later.”
The Bailey House, built in the Queen Anne style, is one of the many beautiful properties found in Fernandina Beach. Once a bed and breakfast inn, it is currently for sale. It is worth a look and photo opportunity; check out the carousel horse figures hanging from the circular porch front.
For an excellent overview of Fernandina Beach, read this article from Amelia Island Living.
Another note on Kate—she wrote the alma mater for Fernandina Beach High School in 1942. Go Pirates!