Amelia Island marks the mouth of the St. Marys River, which is surrounded by thousands of acres of peaceful marshland. But during the early 1800s, slave trading, piracy, and smuggling were common in this area of Florida. The Victorian style Amelia Island lighthouse built on this island was used to guide not only legitimate ships down the Atlantic coast but also many slave ships into this area for their illegal trade. As many as one hundred and fifty slaves were crowded into a single schooner with unspeakable conditions. Some history books say that one thousand slaves were brought in a year, but the real numbers are hard to know for sure. Rumors of Indian attacks were widely spread by traders at that time in order to keep people away from areas where slaves were brought in.
As the smugglers’ trade fell off, it was replaced with other commerce such as lumber, fishing, shrimping, phosphate, and military supplies. Then in the 1850s, the very first cross-state railway was built connecting Amelia Island and San Fernandina on the east coast of Florida with Cedar Key on the west coast, allowing the area to prosper. Jacksonville overshadowed this region with its larger port, however, and the area never developed as was hoped.
The sixty-four-foot Amelia Island lighthouse is well inland as lighthouses go and sits atop a fifty-foot hill. All the bricks used in the construction of the Amelia Island lighthouse were taken from the one at Cumberland Island built in 1820. Concrete wasn’t very good back then so chipping it off the bricks was easier than it would be today, especially with cheap labor
The lighthouse is in a residential area and not open to the public, but you can get a good look at it from the edge of the property. There are no fences surrounding the lighthouse, and the customary no-trespassing sign is the only thing preventing anyone from walking onto the grounds. You can also get a nice view of the lighthouse from Atlantic Avenue. A few miles away is the town of San Fernandina Beach. It’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon with its working shrimp boats, quaint shops, and restaurants.