Fort Clinch is one of the most exciting and interesting historic attractions on Amelia Island , drawing thousands of visitors each year, along with its surrounding state park. As the northernmost attraction on the northernmost barrier island in the state of Florida, this fort is surrounded by maritime hammock, forests, tidal marshes, beaches, and sand dunes and has quite an intriguing history.
The surrounding park is a massive 1,400 acres and a popular destination for swimming, shark tooth hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing, and historic tours. The fort itself dates back several decades with multiple nations controlling it at one point or another.
A historic fort that was never completed
The first version of Fort Clinch was completed in 1847, and it was built as a Third System defense to protect the United States at the entrance of the St. Mary’s River. After the United States gained possession of Florida in 1821, a northern fortification was needed on the island, and eventually Fort Clinch was started in 1847. The fort was named after general Duncan Lamont Clinch who led the United States in the War of 1812 as well as the First and Second Seminole Wars.
After Florida seceded from the Union in 1861, the work on Fort Clinch was still incomplete. It lacked a cannon and walls of the intended height. In April of 1861, Florida state militia finally occupied the fort when war broke out between the North and the South. However, by February of 1862, General Robert E. Lee ordered troops to be withdrawn from Amelia Island.
The order had come too late, as Union forces and gunboats were already in the process of reclaiming the island while the Southern forces were withdrawing, and successfully did so in March of 1862. Although work on the fort was continued, it was never fully completed, and by World War II it had become a state park.
Now a popular state park
Today, you can view the remnants of the old fort, take pictures, and go on historic group tours where you can learn detailed information about the fort in an interactive experience. Much of the fort has been restored for historic preservation purposes, so you can truly see what it was like many decades ago.
You can explore the grounds, rooms and galleries of the fort during the tours. On the first weekend of every month there is also a Union Garrison living history event at the fort where staff members dress in period costumes as soldiers and showcase cooking, firing demonstrations, and the daily activities of what life was like in 1864.
You can also find other living history weekends at the fort reenacting other periods such as the Spanish American War. These programs cost a $2.00 per person fort admission in addition to the standard park admission of $6.00 per vehicle. Other programs held at the fort typically will have a similar admission cost.
When you’re not exploring the fort itself, you’ll have hundreds of acres for mountain biking, fishing, hiking, shelling, and swimming. Beautiful maritime forests can be found throughout the park with moss draped oaks as well as picturesque coastal grasslands and beaches. Fort Clinch State Park remains one of the most untouched and scenic areas of the entire island.
During your adventures, you can spot a variety of creatures including deer, alligators, gopher tortoises, and a variety of birds and other reptiles. Visiting Fort Clinch in Fernandina Beach is an absolute must during your next Amelia Island vacation to immerse yourself in the history of the island and explore one of the most scenic outdoor areas anywhere.