I am away from Amelia Island for the holidays spending time with my family in the middle of a cornfield in Illinois. My parents home is located on land that my great grandfather and his brothers farmed when they came over from Germany many years ago. This place is special to me because it is rich with heritage. Not only from my family but it just so happens that in order to get to this house, you must drive down Old Route 66.
To me, this old road represents so much of what makes travel special to me. I used to walk Route 66 in high school, wondering what stories this old road could tell if it were able to speak ( I did have friends, I assure you). Young men, drafted into the Army who had never left their small country hometown, driving to Chicago, just waiting to be shipped overseas. Families in their station wagons with the windows rolled down, listening to Frank Sinatra, on their way to a vacation at some kitschy location such as Wisconsin Dells or the like. Old timey gangsters like Al Capone driving from Chicago to his hunting outpost on the river in Western Illinois. (Side note: You can still visit the bar on the river where Al Capone drank, The Rivers Edge. And I have. Jack Daniels on the rocks. Because I felt the need to make Al proud in my drink choice.)
History is what defines us as individuals and collectively as a human race. I have always been drawn to places with deep roots and old souls and as I am away from Amelia this Thanksgiving, I take note of the richness that the island offers. Shrimpers, Pirates, Spaniards, Oprah. Amelia is not just another vacation spot in Florida; it is an American treasure. Like Route 66. Amelia is the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry. It houses American Beach, America’s first African American resort community, Founded by Florida’s first black millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis. And the island brags of housing the oldest operational bar in Florida, The Palace Saloon. Just to name a few of the historical highlights.
Since moving to the island five years ago I have been involved with the Museum of History and discovered a treasure trove of wonderful stories about Amelia. And as I see the direction of tourism on the island, I do wonder if enough is being done to preserve and promote the unique flavor that historically made Amelia Island such a rich location. Is the history of Amelia at the forefront of our movements or will those leading the charge on tourism drive the island to homogenization in the name of drawing a more “upscale” visitor?
I understand that everything is about balance. Tourism, at this point, is just part of the island. So less tourists and more spending per tourist is the name of the game on Amelia. And I like that thought as the local economy could surely use those dollars. But my hope is that in the future, when people think Amelia Island, they do not just think of another beach getaway that could be anywhere In Florida, Georgia, or the Carolinas but that they think shrimp boats and Pirates and Victorian houses and T-Rays burgers and Felix and…well Oprah and John Grisham.
If you have not yet been to the Amelia Island Museum of History, please go. It is located in the old jail on 3rd Street and is easily one of the most wonderful small-town museums that I have ever run across. Take a look at their website for events and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a treasure trove of Amelia Island pictures, fun facts, and whatever other Amelia-y things might be of relevance. http://ameliamuseum.org/ If you are a local, you will value these stories as a part of your daily life and a part of your personal story. As a visitor, the island’s history will most definitely cause Amelia to hold a very special, forever, place in your heart.