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Island park a historical treasure trove.

A melia Island is a landlubber's paradise. Its narrow, brick-studded streets are lined with art galleries and restaurants, and the atmosphere is a world away from the hubbub of other beach resorts.

The island is the northernmost barrier island on Florida's Atlantic coast, just a few miles from the state's border with Georgia. The island was named for Princess Amelia, the daughter of England's King George II. It is 13.5 miles long, and its width varies from one-quarter of a mile to two miles. The island's main industry is shrimping; nearly 80 percent of the Atlantic white. shrimp is harvested in the island's waters.

Surrounded by water on three sides, Fort Clinch State Park includes more than 12,000 feet of shoreline and 1,121 acres.

Construction of Fort Clinch was started in 1847 and continued through the Civil War. It was occupied by both Confederate and Union troops, and held a garrison for a few years following the war. The fort eventually was deactivated. It was reactivated in 1898 during the Spanish-American War then abandoned.

The state of Florida purchased the land around the fort in 1935. Crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps were responsible for the initial restoration of the fort and development of the park, which opened to the public in 1938.

The history of the fort is brought to life by rangers and volunteers, who dress in authentic Civil Warera uniforms and carry out the daily duties of Union soldiers. Each one stays in character, no matter what questions a curious public may throw at them.

Stan Reed is one of the rangers who guide visitors through the well-preserved fort. He leads visitors through the rough buildings that made up living quarters and work areas. When the group reaches the blacksmith shop, another ranger, in character as the blacksmith, takes over and explains how his job is done. With hand-held bellows, he pumps smoking coals to life, and as visitors watch in the steamy heat of the forge, he heats pieces of iron and hammers them on an anvil. One of the pieces becomes a wall hook in the shape of an antelope head. The blacksmith uses his skills to make artillery repairs or to create eating utensils for soldiers who had had their hands amputated.

Reed takes up the tour after the blacksmith shop and leads the group to the fort hospital, where he explains how the primitive equipment was used. In the 1860s, the patient supplied the power to the drill by pumping a pedal with his foot.

The park also offers nature hikes where alligators and other wildlife can be seen. Camping facilities are available, and visitors can try their luck at deep sea or surf fishing, or fishing from the pier.

To find out morc about Amelia Island and Fort Clinch, write Fort Clinch State Park, 2601 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, or call 1-(904) 277-7274.

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Author:Bowman, Martha
Date:Jan 19, 2003
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