Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

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Beyond Fort Clinch-Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Friday November 3, 2017                                                                            Most Recent Posts:
Fort Clinch State Park                                                                                The Beach at Fort Clinch
Fernandina Beach, Florida                                                                            Last Days with Our Girls

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving! 
I haven’t made it quite up to the present but I’m at least in November <grin>
and despite the challenges in our life have so much to be thankful for. 
I’m having an unusual but wonderful day and hope you are too. 
I’ll explain when I get to November 23rd.

 But for now,
not so long ago and in a land not so very far far away . . .

During our last few days at Fort Clinch State Park we ventured further afield to do some uncharacteristic touristing.  

On that morning, at sunrise I walked down to what I call the corner of St. Mary’s and Atlantic which is where the break water goes out into the ocean.   It was gray and ominous, the waves were crashing. 

Despite the gray and cloudy skies, the sunrise is beautiful.

Its rays reflect on the gorgeous patterns of nature that I see on my way back home.


Amazingly by the time we are on the road for our visit to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve sites, the day has turned fair.  This preserve, named for the original inhabitants of this area of Florida who, like the other welcoming Native Americans, were largely eliminated by disease and more direct means of,  in this case, Spanish explorers.  Established in 1988, this 46,000 acre preserve includes sites of ecological and local history including the largest sand dune in Florida, a fort built by French colonists in the 1500’s, a plantation, and the 600 acre Willie Brown homestead now known as the Theodore Roosevelt area.

We start off right outside the park on Highway A1A the coastal Highway. Our first stop will be American Beach.

We find much more than we bargained for.  Today becomes a real discovery tour with many interesting stories.

Ten miles down A1A we turn left on Lewis Road and find American Beach at its dead end.

Various information signs tell us that in 1935 Abraham Lincoln Lewis, president of the Afro American Insurance company, bought 200 acres of beachfront so his employees could enjoy the Florida shore during the days of segregation.  Florida’s beaches were racially segregated until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.  There were few beaches in the entire southeast open to African Americans but American Beach was.   Notice the building on the right fronting the beach road.  That’s Evan’s Rendevous Nightclub.



The signs in the picture above of the end of Lewis Street show that beach driving permits are required.  I guess we’ll assume this fellow we see when looking north up the beach has one.


I’m not a fan of beach driving.  Looking south on American Beach is how I prefer beaches to look.


Turning back to leave the beach we see the Evan’s Rendevous Nightclub.  At this point, we don’t know what it is other than a boarded up building on the beach.  We had seen the side of it coming down the sandy end of Lewis Road.


IMG_5193From 1935 for the next 40 years American Beach was a paradise for vacationing African Americans.  Evan’s Rendevous nightclub was an anchor of the community, welcoming artists such as Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong.  Today American Beach is threatened by encroaching development.  The Trust for Public Land has purchased Evan’s Rendevous and is working with Nassau County to restore the building and preserve several nearby sites.”  We wonder when the restoration is going to start.

There are several other information signs in the area showing pictures of folks enjoying themselves at the beach.   This one was my favorite.

IMG_5211The beach is on one side of Evan’s Rendevous and a dune system called NaNa is across the street on the other side.  NaNa, at 60 feet,  the tallest dune in Florida, is now a protected landmark due largely to the efforts of MaVynne Betsch who returned to the community of American Beach in 1970 from a career in opera in London, Paris and Germany.  She spent the remainder of her  life working to acquire nearly 10 acres as a National Park and part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve.

In front of the dune system were information boards and  a “Picture Post Project”.  I’d never seen this before.   I’d love to know if you have.   If not,  this picture will tell you what it is. Just click on it to read.  I put my camera up on the post and rotated as directed.  These are the pictures that resulted.  Every direction from in front of the dune.  They give a picture of the American Beach community from near the intersection of its two central streets.


Ms. Betsch’s hard work has kept this area of American Beach pretty rural looking.



The building in the distance behind the information sign is Evan’s Rendevous.  The beach is beyond it.



Leaving the Dune to head back to A1A, we drive along side and see a local resident out for a stroll.   I think it would be wonderful to have a dune system and its residents as my neighbors.


We go around the block and get back on Lewis Road.  Where find more stories..

American Beach Map

Having been a student of history in my past life, I have always been amazed by the things previous generations were able to get away with as in women couldn’t own property or have bank accounts, Black Americans could not stop at any hotel or restaurant they wanted and so on.  One of the markers here told me some things I did not know about this area. 

Both Fort Clinch and the Community of American Beach are located on Amelia Island north of Jacksonville along highway A1A.

Amelia Island was home to several Sea Island cotton plantations, including the Harrison Plantation.  In 1862 Union forces captured Amelia Island and the freed slaves founded Franklintown at the south end of the island.  The Franklintown cemetery which the Harrison family had given to their slaves as a burial place for their families still exists today on the west side of highway A1A.  We were not able to locate it as there are no signs to show where it is.  I later read that it is on Plantation Point Drive which is located in Plantation Point, a gated community just south of Lewis Street. On a cul-de-sac of $500,000 homes, there is one vacant lot that provides access to the cemetery of mostly unmarked graves.  I also learned that Google Maps calls it the Harrison Cemetery not the Franklintown cemetery.  Seems pretty unfair to me Google.

I read that old-timers say there was a deed to this burial ground issued in 1924; it, however was never recorded and has been lost. In 1971, the owners of what is now Plantation Point subdivision, Harry and Melba Sahlman, deeded the cemetery and an access easement to the trustees of the Franklintown Cemetery Association. The configuration of the present fenced area matches the 1971 deed description, but old-timers say that the missing deed covered a larger area and that there are graves outside the fence

IMG_5243We were able to find the Franklintown Chapel of the Trinity Methodist Episcopol church which was built in 1888.  It is not on its original site since in jn 1949, it was demolished because of highway A1A construction and a new frame church was built.  In 1972 a company based on Hilton Head Island bought much of Franklintown and took the initial steps to establish an elaborate ocean-fronting resort and luxury condominiums. The church had to move and was relocated on Lewis Street, near A1A in the northern portion of American Beach. A new brick chapel was constructed (above) and the 1949 frame building was relocated to the new site and serves as the church’s fellowship hall. 

IMG_5245Thus, it is no longer in the Franklintown Community from which most of the black residents have been evicted, forced to move north to American Beach  because of the influx of  wealthy people, most of them white and from other parts of the country. I suspect these are second homes.  Realty reports online describe Franklintown as one of the wealthiest communities in the nation.  I find this whole thing angers me.  How do people of color get over such displacement whether they are Black, Native American or original Mexican residents of areas taken over by the United States?

This little stretch of coastal highway provides the opportunity to delve into the continuing interaction of race, religion, and money in the development of American culture. Part of that story is kept alive by Franklintown United Methodist Church on Lewis Street.

Leaving American Beach and Amelia Island we cross the bridge onto the mainland and stop for a look around at both Big Talbot Island Sate Park and Little Talbot Island State parks.  Both have kayak launches that we have used before.  Little Talbot Island has a lovely “old Florida” campground with sites big enough for Winnona but roads so narrow with uncut vegetation that we probably would never bring her there.  It’s my kind of place though if Winnona were a Casita.

Our next stop in the Tumucuan Preserve was to be Kingsley Plantation but on the way up the road to it we serendipitously pass by a church of the same vintage as the original Franklintown church.  It too is an Episcopol church but has not been destroyed or moved.  It still sits in its original  location on Fort George Road only miles away from the Franklintown church



IMG_5280Not far beyond the church, the road forks.  To the left is Kingsley Plantation and to the right is the Ribault Club. On our map of the preserve are listed its main spots and nearby or associated spots like the state parks.   Ribault is one of those.  We decide to go check it out before coming back to the plantation.  Turns out it is jointly operated the by the Florida Park Service, the National Park Service and a concessionaire.  It opened in 1928 as a winter time recreational resort which offered members golfing, tennis, hunting, fishing, and yauchting.  Quite a contrast from Franklintown and American Beach.

IMG_5287Membership began to decrease during the depression forcing the club to sell its property.  Several attemps to develop the island into a resort community failed due in part to the dedication of local citizens to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the island.  The club became part of Fort George Island Cultural State Park in 1989.  We hadn’t known we were on another island or in a state park until this point.  No fees, no gate.  Turns out the Ribault Club is the Fort George Island visitor center.  The club now has exhibits about Fort George Island and facilities for group events.  Today set up is going on for an outdoor wedding and indoor reception.  It looks  like a lovely place for such an event.  


IMG_5302From the visitor center we find out that this island was called Alicamani by the Timucuan Indians who were living here when French Explorer Jean Ribault landed nearby at the mouth of the St. John’s river in 1562.  In succession the French were driven out by the Spanish in 1600 and then they by the British in 1702.  The Fort George name comes from the British Fort constructed.  Later 3 American planters owned the island in turn.  The last being Zepaniah Kingsley whose tabby and wood plantation house and slave dwellings ruins we will visit next.


There is a great deal of information about the Timucuan people which we would have missed had we not just happened to come here.  I think it should be listed on the map not as an auxilliary site but as a major part of the Preserve.   I suspect the information in the “exhibits room” was done by the National Park Service.  It is expertly done with a great deal of excellent information provided in a small space.  We spent much longer here than we had thought we would.


The Exhibit area was about the history of St. George Island with a nice emphasis on the original peoples but also information about the Spanish Mission built here and about Kingsley Plantation.


  We stay until closing time so Kingsley will have to wait until another day.  


  1. Great article. I enjoyed reading this. I want to stay on your list even though I hardly comment I do enjoy reading your adventures

  2. Beautiful southern architecture! The waves look quite dramatic too.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Very interesting post. There is so much history in FL. Nice job.

  4. WOW...you two sure make the most of every place you visit. So much info...Who Knew??

  5. Little Talbot is awesome I stayed there last year. Enjoy!

  6. Thanks for the interesting tour. Spent 20 years in FL but only visited Amelia Island briefly. That Fort George Island visitor center is quite impressive.

  7. We've never been to Amelia Island, but it's on our list. You two really do explore everywhere you go in depth. And then you manage to find the time to write about it in depth! I don't know how you do it. We stayed at Little Talbot a few years ago and will return this year in February. Love those beaches!

  8. I love how you explore an area and discover the little off the beaten path places. Looks like this visitor center was a great find.

  9. What a wonderful stop, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share it all here. I could watch those wild waves for hours. What an amazing history for this little unknown place. I haven't seen a Picture Post, but agree they are a great idea! I'm grateful for the tireless work of the individual heroes who made sure these places have been preserved for us to visit and learn about. Too, too many were lost to developers and big money. I often wonder how differently our world would look had people of color not been displaced and denied basic rights for so long. The Ribault Club is a regal place. I hope the Evan's finds the funds to restore it properly as well.

  10. Very informative! Interesting history indeed. The picture post idea is neat...many eyes on the same spots. I, too, hope restoration can happen so that history isn't lost and can he remembered. So unfair some of it seems. Great capture of it in this blog.

  11. I was shocked to hear that beaches were segregated until 1964! The only segregation that I have experienced was in Davidson, NC where there was a segregated restaurant and, I think, a whites only water fountain. Love the sunrise, the patterns on the sand and the tortoise.

  12. The picture post is a great idea and hope that those who come by that post or visit the beach will do as desribed, such hard working and dedicated environmentalist.
    This is very informative post and and thank you for such an extensive write up. I will check this area should we visit FL next year.


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