Brief History of Nassau County

Brief History of Nassau County


Nassau County, in the northeastern corner of Florida, contains about 700 square miles, including the Island of Amelia; it is bounded on the north and west by the St. Mary’s River, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the south by the Nassua River and its tributaries; these natural water boundaries, for over half of their length, are navigable for ocean vessels and river steamers.
On July 21st. 1821 Florida was divided into two counties, Escambia in the west and St. Johns in the east. On Dec. 29th 1924 five other Counties were created in East Florida; Leon, Walton, Alachua, Mosquito and Nassua; (The name was from the Duchy of Nassau in Germany,) there have never been any changes, either in the boundaries or in the form of government which consist of a Board of Commissioners, five in number, one member being elected Chairman, each year by the Board.
Nassua County has always been a wonderful timber country, supplying many sawmills on the St. Mary’s river and port of Fernandina, with logs which were rafted down the river; later there were turpentine stills for the manufacture of rosin and other turpentine products. Nassau County embraces almost every variety of timber and soil, the present population is about 10,000.
The Town of Callahan, situated near the center of the County, was incorporated in 1911, Hilliard, about eleven miles north of Callahan, was also incorporated about the same time, but the charter was soon after revoked. These two towns are, at present, the only ones of any importance, besides Fernandina, in Nassau County. Fernandina, the County seat of Nassau County, is situated on the north end of Amelia Island, and as early as 1808 was declared a free Port and enjoyed tremendous activity which continued to increase up to 1812, and for some time after. In 1855 the Florida Rail Road was built connecting Fernandina with Cedar Keys and opening up vast resources of lumber, cotton, and naval stores which was shipped through this port, making Fernandina a very important shipping center. The present city of Fernandina was incorporated on Aug. 16th. 1858, although the Old Town of Fernandina was incorporated many years before, probably in 1824.
In 1876 the Egmont Hotel was built in Fernandina and was the first tourist hotel in Florida, and this became a very great resort for visitors from the northern states; both the Clyde and Mallory steamship lines called at this port and vessels from many foreign lands, as well as coastwise, loaded with goods from the markets of the world, called and returned carrying shipments of lumber, cotton, naval stores, phosphate etc. During the year of 1899, from Jan. 1st. 742 vessels entered and cleared from the port of Fernandina. In the past few years shipments of lumber and naval stores have fallen off, but in their stead have developed a vast fishing industry; plants for the manufacture of fertilizers, oil, cattle feed etc., have been set up, utilizing the large catches of Menhaden or “Pogy” which


State Library of Florida, WPA - Historical Records Survey, County Histories


Brief history of Nassau County, Florida collected by the Works Progress Administration's Historical Records Survey.

Note to Researchers: Though the WPA field workers included extensive citations for the factual information contained in these county histories, it should be noted that these historical narratives were produced in the 1930s by federal government employees, and might reflect the inherent social biases of the era.