Amelia Island

Received of Hopkins Nowlin Four hundred and seventy five Dollars in full payment for the Purchase money of a certain negro girl Slave named Kitty Age about 17 years….

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This receipt was the object I found most interesting at the Amelia Island (Florida) Museum of History.  Amelia Island — named after a daughter of George II of England — is the southernmost of the barrier islands located off the coast of the southern US.  It was our home base for a week of touring southern Georgia and northern Florida.

The museum tells the story of the people who settled Amelia, starting with the Timucuan, who were there for about 500 years before the Europeans arrived in the mid 16th century. The French, the Spanish and the English each owned Amelia at some point thereafter.

By the time Kitty and Hopkin Nowlin crossed paths in 1843, Amelia had been part of the US for 80 years.  From what I could gather from a little online search, Nowlin was a slave trader who plied his trade up and down the coast from Virginia to Florida. Kitty’s sale took place in Lynchburg, Virginia, so I don’t know how the receipt ended up in the Amelia Island history museum. It may be that Nowlin sold Kitty to an Amelia resident or it may have been that only the receipt made its way to Florida, via some Nowlin descendant. If the museum provided more information on the object, I didn’t see it.

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I did a better, as far as getting the details down, with this dress, worn by Amelia Island resident Mary Lee Jones for her May 3, 1887 wedding in Jacksonville, Florida, to traveling salesman Liday (yes, it is spelled correctly) Hamilton. The elaborate dress and the fact that there were 1000 people at their wedding makes me think that there may have been more to Liday than his traveling salesman occupation would indicate. Not that there’s anything wrong with that ….

There are two, distinct halves of Amelia Island: the southern half, with its large hotels and tourist filled beaches, and the northern half, with its full-time residents and 30 block historic district (on the National Register of Historic Places) full of (mostly) Victorian houses.  The history museum is in the historic district, in a building that was, from 1878 to 1978, the county jail.

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A five block commercial street runs down the center of the historic district, with cute artsy shops. And there was the large, old post office (yes, I have a post office fetish). This one was built in 1910 to resemble a Medici palace, so of course I wanted to see what it looked like on the inside. Who wouldn’t want to see the inside of a Medici palace.

Sadly, when I got up to the door, I was greeted with this:

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I’ve never known a post office to close for lunch — at least, not in the States.  But that’s part of the appeal of Amelia Island. It’s a Florida beach resort that’s actually small town Georgia at heart. I could have gone back later, or another day, but I never did.

Across the street from the post office is the Palace Saloon, that says, above its front door: “Oldest bar in Florida.” The heyday of the island was in the late 19th century, when it was a major seaport. Lots of sailors, lots of prostitutes and lots of bars. The Palace story goes that the original owner wanted something more upscale than the brothel-cum-bar that was the norm in town. The Palace opened in 1903 as a gentlemen’s establishment, in an 1878 building that originally housed a shoe store. During Prohibition, it was an ice cream parlor. It has beautiful tile floors and ceilings, and ornately carved mahagony bar.

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But the most impressive thing about it is its patrons.

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3 Responses to Amelia Island

  1. museummutt says:

    I would love to visit Amelia island. By the way, my small town post office also closes for lunch and I always forget.

  2. Kathie says:

    Interesting architecture, relaxed local culture and southern food. Aside from the hurricane threat, sounds like an excellent place to retire!

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