January 20, 2014
On the surface, Jacksonville is a progressive, fun Southern town, but its rich historic foundations are the area’s real assets. Visitors can travel back in time here, on the same virgin beaches that the Spanish explorers claimed in the 1500s, in Civil War guesthouses or in swanky Jacksonville hotels frequented by 1920s film stars.
Jacksonville’s rich timeline is captured in some of the nation’s oldest and storied properties. Here are some of the most historic places to rest your head in North Florida.
In Jacksonville’s golden age, when jazz was king and silent film studios attracted celebrities and dignitaries to warm, wide beaches during the winter months, Casa Marina was the grandest hotel in town. Today it’s the only remaining property from Jacksonville’s brief heyday as the Hollywood of the South.
The luxe beachfront property opened with much fanfare in 1925. For the next few years, Casa Marina hosted guests like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Al Capone, Jean Harlow and John D. Rockefeller.
The 23 bedrooms and parlor suites were renovated and reopened in 1991, having been accented with elegant furnishings and cherry floors. To this day, the Spanish-Mediterranean architecture evokes the star-studded parties of Jacksonville’s glory days.
691 First Street North, Jacksonville Beach
Built in 1857 on Amelia Island, about 45 minutes north of Jacksonville, The Florida House Inn is considered the state’s oldest operating inn. Its 17 rooms once housed Union officers during the Civil War, including Ulysses S. Grant, and notable U.S. business tycoons Ford and Rockefeller.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Florida House Inn has an English pub, parlor room and inviting wrap-around porches that invoke a simpler time. The property rests within the 50-square block historic district of Fernandina Beach – meaning the harbour, shops and restaurants offering Southern hospitality and cuisine are just minutes away.
22 South 3rd Street, Fernandina Beach
Built in 1888 in St Augustine’s historic quarter, Casa Monica Hotel is one of the oldest in the U.S., and its Moorish Revival and Spanish Baroque Revival architecture fit perfectly with the centuries-old cobblestone streets and colonial vibe of the nation’s first city. Named for Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine, the property has welcomed such notable guests as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the King and Queen of Spain.
In 1968, the hotel was repurposed as the St. John’s County Courthouse, where it played a role in the Civil Rights movement. Reopened as a hotel in 1999, the property is the only one in the area to receive AAA’s Four-Diamond award.
95 Cordova Street, St Augustine
When rich minerals were discovered in the dunes between Jacksonville Beach and St. Augustine in the early 1900s, no one would’ve expected that the hardy mining outpost would eventually become one of North Florida’s most affluent resorts. Once World War I came to an end and the minerals were no longer needed to manufacture steel, the rugged frontier town was transformed into a seaside community that became The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club
By 1928, pastel-hued homes, extensive sporting facilities and a beach resort had replaced the general store, and America’s social elite replaced the miners. Since then, the resort has grown to include 300 acres with ½ mile of beach on the Atlantic Ocean, 250 rooms and suites, an enormous spa, heated pools, horseback riding, tennis and the main attraction – golf.
200 Ponte Vedra Boulevard, Ponte Vedra
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Have you ever slept in a historic Jacksonville hotel? How do they compare to your favourite modern properties? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Written by Angie Orth