HISTORY. The area now known as Old Town was originally
settled by Timucua Indians, who probably chose it because of its high and dry
location along the Amelia
and its fertile soil. Later, the Spanish and British recognized these
attributes as well as its proximity to the developing United States, its
defensible position in the western Atlantic, and because it was close to the
gold route from South America to Spain. Old
Town was platted by the Spanish in 1811 – the
last town platted to the ‘Laws of the Indies’
in the Western hemisphere. (Also Law of the Indies
1573 revision). Other US cities platted to the Laws of the Indies include
(in alphabetical order) Albuquerque, NM; Laredo, TX; Santa Fe, NM; and Tucson,
original grid – encompassing some 26 blocks – remains to this day, although
some has been lost to erosion by the river and other by the routing of the ‘14th
Street extension’ through it. Included in the original plat was the Plaza de la
Constitution (Plaza San Carlos) which occupies a full block of green space
overlooking the Amelia
River and is now
administered by nearby Fort
Clinch State Park; two blocks are included in the historic Bosque
Town is listed on the National Register
of Historic Places.
street names in Old
Town are a
refreshing change from the Mains and Broads of other
cities; they reflect what was important to people living here in 1811-1821.
area has borne various names under the eight flags which have ruled Amelia
Island. The English named it Egmont
City, and the name Fernandina was provided by
the Spanish Governor Enrique White who wanted King Ferdinand to set up a ‘court
in exile’ here when Spain was invaded by Napoleon. He changed the name as an
added, but unsuccessful, incentive! Subsequently, Fernandina’s residents moved
to what is now called Fernandina Beach
because the railroad sponsored by Sen. David Yulee could only make it to Center
Street – it could not cross the salt-marsh to Old
Town. Old Town
is the place where the name Fernandina was first used. Take a look at John Paul
Jones’ article Festive, Fabulous Fernandina Beach for
a readable history.
design that Surveyor George J. F. Clarke (1774-1836) laid down in his 1811 plat
is still visible today. Blocks vary in size and consist of eight or ten of the
Spanish lots called a peónia (pay-oh-NEE-a). A peónia is 17 varas (46.5
feet) by 34 varas (93 feet) or 4,325 square feet. This was the amount of land
that a Spanish foot soldier (a peón) would have received in exchange for
his part in the conquest. The ‘long’ side of the peónia runs North-South; on
the East and West of each block, peónias are divided in half and are called
‘media peónias’. Old Town
today contains about 23 blocks incorporating 146 total buildable lots. A map
showing the Old Town Plat is available here. Although
the Plat gives ‘Lot Numbers’ to the media peónias as well as to the full
peónias, these media peónias are not themselves buildable lots. However, the
combination of two adjacent media peónias does provide the equivalent of a full
peonia, and is buildable. Commissioned by the City of Fernandina Beach, the University
prepared the Old Town
Guidelines to be applied to the development of Old
Town. The Land Development Code preserves Old
grid and defines the requirements to be met for property constructed in Old
Old Town is
undergoing a renaissance. After many years of being overlooked, the area is now
recognized as a prime location for people who want to maintain a unique lifestyle
within walking distance of their neighbors in a diverse community. Opinions
abound as to the building styles to adopt, but all residents agree on the need
to establish quality designs and construction and to preserve the unique
feeling of community that exists here. Here are some examples of our Old Town architecture – old and new.
improvements in Old Town
- With help from Smurfit Stone
Container Corporation, and the City, the boundary fence along Garden
Street has been cleared of weeds and vines.
Smurfit Stone have installed a sprinkler system fed from their well, and
they have planted a number of trees - cedars, elms, live oaks, loquats,
maples, magnolias, palmettos, and pines. Thank you, Smurfit Stone!
- A new Information Box has
been added to the sign at the entrance to Old
Town on White
Street. It contains a leaflet giving some details of Old
Town’s history and its unique place in our
- The brush on the North sided
of Ladies Street has been cleared to provide better views from Old Town to
Tiger Point Marina, Egan’s
Creek, and the State Park beyond. Thank you, Bill!
Street is now open to foot traffic between New
Street and 12th
Street. We can better mark its path, and
clear brush as it meanders past Bosque Bello to provide a pleasant walk
for residents under beautiful canopy trees.
that are being worked on include:
- Protecting the Plaza from
vehicular traffic. The State Park has a plan to construct a small parking
area at the river end of White Street
with an informational exhibit.
- Building steps down to the
water from the river ends of Garden and White streets to provide access
without eroding the cliff.
- ‘The Peónias Spanish Heritage Inn’ at the
Eastern end of White Street.
- Preparing for the Viva
Florida 500 celebration the weekend of September 27-29 2013.
Clarke's dates were obtained from '"A class of people neither freemen nor
slaves": from Spanish to American race relations in Florida, 1821-1861' by
Daniel L. Schafer (1993), available at www.the
Website is dedicated to providing information and links to resources that will
help people embrace the ‘Old Town
spirit.’ It is privately funded, and receives no monies from the local,
state, or federal government. Please send any suggestions, comments, and
requests for additions or inclusions to Old Town Fernandina Website.
updated: January 20, 2013