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Trouble in Cedar Key: To Fernandina and back

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By Gene Benedict

It has been a while since Anne and I took a field trip together. So this weekend past, we drove to Fernandina for a couple overnights. Monday we returned to the Cedar Keys. We used the back routes roughly paralleling the right of way of the old Yulee Cross Florida Railway.

We went up route 24 to Gainesville through Sumner, Rosewood, Wylie, Otter Creek, Bronson, Archer and other towns, long forgotten, that were along the railroad right of way. We wormed our way through Gainesville, taking route 301 through Waldo, Stark, Lawtey, and under I-10 and more small towns to route A1A, through Yulee and eventually to Amelia Island as it is now called, to the seaport town of Fernandina on the north end of the Island.

We went from termination to termination of the cross Florida Railway, from the shallow seaport on the Gulf to the deep-water port on the Atlantic. At one time Cedar Key and Fernandina were the two largest towns in Florida. And both were thriving seaports.

The railroad carried goods both ways though most of it came to Fernandina from the backcountry of North Central Florida and the Gulf Coast. The line was completed in March of 1861 having overcome difficulties, many financial, only to have the War Between the States disrupt commerce. The port of Fernandina was virtually destroyed, as were the rail line and its sidings on the Island. Cedar Key had similar experiences at that time.

In spite of those many difficulties, the port towns of Cedar Key and Fernandina survived and thrived for fifty or so years. Now both are successful tourist destinations coupled with local industries.

Fernandina, the historic town, is on the north end of Amelia Island and just a bike ride away from Fernandina Beach. There are a number of bed and breakfasts, converted large, older, family dwellings and hotels in the town. The Florida House Inn, circa 1857, on 3rd Street, is the hotel David Yulee built for his workmen who built and maintained the railroad.

Though a smaller city, Cedar Key has similar accommodations with the Island Hotel, circa 1859, and the Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast. Each city embraces the arts with several local artist co-ops.

And food -- great food. Cedar Key has its Island Hotel dinning room, Tony's and the Island Room among others, and Fernandina has the Marina Seafood Restaurant, Brett's Waterway Café and Café Karibo. And the list goes on...

So you see, both ends of David Yulee's Florida Railroad had long and varied histories and they continue to thrive as two of Florida's oldest towns connected by the similar histories and experiences.

We close this part of the field trip for now. Soon, we'll talk about the Fernandina area again. It's a great place for a long weekend or a vacation trip.

Meanwhile, enjoy Clamerica and the Fourth of July festivities. We'll talk again soon.

E-mail: tnckgebe@yahoo.com