Preserving Amelia’s Past

With a growing portfolio of historic and iconic properties, the Saltmarsh Hospitality Group is keeping some of Amelia Island’s favorite buildings open for business.

The newly formed Saltmarsh Hospitality Group has a passion for Amelia Island’s historic homes and properties. It began in 2010 when entrepreneur and developer Ernie Saltmarsh Sr., recognizing the need to step up and save an Amelia Island Historic District treasure, purchased the venerable Florida House Inn, saving it from an uneasy future.

Since then, other iconic and unique properties have been added to the Saltmarsh Hospitality Group’s impressive portfolio, including the Beech Street Grill, the Green Turtle Tavern, the Down Under Restaurant, and most recently, the Lesesne House on Centre Street. In addition to their regular restaurant business, the properties each offer a unique venue for special events of all kinds, from weddings to birthdays and everything in-between.

The Saltmarsh Group is currently focused on the renovation of the Lesesne House. The Lesesne House is described as Classical Revival. It is the oldest and only remaining post-and-beam home on Amelia Island.

A two-hundred-year-old oak tree shades a generous lawn that spills onto Centre Street. Its distinctive two double-galleried porches stretch across the front of the house. A railing has been added across the first-story porch that matches one found in an old photo of the house. The original owner was Dr. John Lesesne.

When the Florida Railroad’s David Yulee found it necessary to move the town of Fernandina from what is now known as Old Town to its current site, Dr. Lesesne was one of the first to build a home. The doctor left Amelia Island to treat injured soldiers during the Civil War and never returned. Judge John Friend, a German immigrant who was appointed district tax commissioner by President Andrew Jackson, purchased the home.

Prominent in the community, Friend served as county commissioner, a judge, and at the time of his death, state senator-elect from Nassau County. At one time, an olive grove thrived on the land that is now occupied by the post office. The home has only traded hands three times in 160-year history, remaining in one family’s hands for 150 years.

The structure is being meticulously restored and furnished both inside and out. The property offers formal dining rooms and parlors showcasing collections of museum-caliber artwork and antiques.

The Florida House Inn, another Saltmarsh Hospitality group property, is command central for the group and is its most popular venue. Built in 1857, it is the oldest continually operated hotel in the state of Florida. It has housed many famous people through the years, including Ulysses S. Grant, Jose Marti, Henry Ford, Laurel Hardy, and Mary Pickford. Centrally located in downtown Fernandina Beach, the inn features 17 rooms, the famous Mermaid Bar, and a beautiful garden and patio area with a 350-year-old oak tree.

Perhaps the most unique property in the Saltmarsh Hospitality Group is around the corner from the Florida House on Ash Street. This rustic historic home is believed to have been built in 1859 by John Martin Waas, a German immigrant, who was an island pharmacist. The house has remained in its natural state and is surrounded by a magical collection of antiques, unique architectural elements, and oddities collected by a craftsman and designer who lived on-site. The unique property creates the perfect backdrop for special photos for weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays.

The Saltmarsh Hospitality Group was created to offer an unmatchable collection of historic properties and the very best in food and drink options. Instead of having to visit different venues with different managers, the Saltmarsh Hospitality Group offers a one-stop opportunity that can coordinate the right venue and the right menu and bar options for any occasion, whether a wedding, seated dinner, or a good old-fashioned low country oyster roast.

Ernie Saltmarsh, Jr is coordinating the new enterprise with Megan Chism as Director of Sales and Marketing. “We are thrilled that we can preserve some of the most iconic buildings in Amelia Island’s Historic District,” says Ernie, Jr. “Combining these amazing properties with our experience in the hospitality industry is a perfect marriage.” For more information, visit