Fernandina Beach is richly populated by historically significant buildings, but there is one modest brick structure near the downtown waterfront which has recently undergone a remarkable transformation. The newly restored Fernandina Beach Train Depot stands out as distinctively elegant and charming.
After more than a century of use (including its Florida Railroad Company tenancy from 1899–1938) the Depot had fallen into significant disrepair. It suffered from wood rot, failing brickwork and layers of lead-based paints, just to name a few of the more serious issues. Roughly two years ago, a seemingly daunting restoration project was initiated under the leadership of Gil Langley, President and CEO of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The real challenge was to restore the physical structure with its original ambience, while incorporating the appropriate 21st century technology,” says Langley. “It was immediately obvious that no one person or organization could complete the task, so a coalition of sorts was formed.”
The City of Fernandina, the Tourism and Development Council and the Restoration Foundation all combined forces to raise the original $300,000 required to initiate the project. Concerned and generous local residents also pledged to contribute in various ways. Clayton Buchanan, a builder, provided pro bono general contractor services; David Cook, a shrimper, donated the hard pine used for the floors and window sills; the vintage horse fountain was restored by jack-of-all-trades Chuck Hall; Bob Jenkins, a custom woodworker, provided a variety of carpentry services. Numerous others donated labor, materials and counsel, either gratis or at discounted rates. “The project became a true community effort,” says Langley. “Everyone, from the project leaders to the brick masons, became emotionally invested in the importance and quality of the work.”
Preserving the Depot’s historical accuracy was of primary concern during its restoration. Vintage photos were consulted, existing glass panels were preserved whenever possible and layers of paint samples were analyzed to determine original colors before the exterior and interior repainting even began.
Future plans call for restoring the original platform adjacent to the railroad tracks. Work is scheduled to begin in October, 2015. “Hopefully, this true public/private partnership will become even more of a focal point for the city as the waterfront continues to develop,” says Langley.
The building is situated at the southeast corner of Centre and Front Streets in downtown Fernandina Beach, and serves as the city’s Welcome Center. It is complete with a helpful full-time staff as well as interactive kiosks, which provide information on dining, lodging and a wide array of local activities. The surrounding environs provide a unique panorama of the city’s heritage as well, boasting statues of David Yulee (founder of the Florida Railroad Company) and “Peg Leg” the Pirate as well as the vintage verdigris horse fountain, and a plaque marking the burial site of a sesquicentennial time capsule due to be opened in 2045.
The Depot is open to visitors 364 days out of the year, closing only on Christmas Day, so there’s no excuse not to find time for a visit. You won’t be disappointed.