Old Town, the original location of the town of Fernandina, has the distinction of being the last Spanish city platted in the Western Hemisphere in 1811. Today Old Town’s Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park, located on a bluff overlooking the Amelia River, is the smallest state park in Florida, with one of the richest histories in the Southeast.
“As we stand here in the grass looking over the river, you’d never guess there was a fort here,” says Frank Ofeldt, local historian and Fort Clinch State Park ranger. “Plaza San Carlos was the plaza ground in front of the Spanish Fort San Carlos, built in 1816. It was a hub of activity and the site of Spanish municipal and military activity on Amelia Island dating from the late 1780s. This area was of military importance because of its deep harbor and its strategic location near the northern boundary of Spanish Florida.”
On June 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Ofeldt and his band of military reenactors will host an inaugural event called “Cannons on the Plaza,” featuring a living history experience which will represent all eight flags of the “Isle of Eight Flags” that Fernandina is known for.
“Fernandina has had the flags of the following nations flown over it since 1562: France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Republic of Florida, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States” says Ofeldt. “It is the only municipality in the United States that has flown eight different national flags, and Cannons on the Plaza will help visitors understand the rich history of Amelia Island.”
Guests can expect to see soldiers dressed in military uniforms that represent the many conflicts that have shaped Amelia Island, including the Patriot War, the Seminole Wars, the Civil War, Gregor MacGregor’s seizure of the fort, and others. Members of the Fort Clinch artillery group will be shooting cannons throughout the day.
The Amelia Island Museum of History will be present to offer visitors in-depth stories about Amelia Island’s rich history. “Long before the arrival of Europeans on what is now called Amelia Island, the Old Town site was home to Native Americans,” says Ofeldt. “The Timucuan had settled on the island about A.D. 1000, calling it ‘Napoyca.’ They remained on the island until the early 18th century, when European settlement began.
“The French, English, and Spanish all maintained a presence on Amelia Island at various times during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, but the Spanish established the town of Fernandina. What we’re trying to accomplish with Cannons on the Plaza is a history timeline that visitors and residents may not know very much about.”
“Visiting this park can be an imaginative experience, standing on a piece of land that has supported settlements dating back more than 2,000 years,” says Ofeldt. “We’re hoping that visitors to Cannons on the Plaza will face the river and feel the same breeze the French explorers felt in 1562; take a deep breath and smell the aroma of the salt marsh, just like the British of 1702 who used this area as a hideout did; listen to the rustling of the trees and the call of the birds, the same sounds the Spanish heard in 1811.”
During the June 15 event, several streets in Old Town will be closed down for parking. Visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, water, sunscreen, and snacks. Other food and beverages will be available for sale. For more information, call Fort Clinch State Park at (904) 277-7274. To learn more about Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park, visit www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/fernandina-plaza-historic-state-park.