Within “The Beaches” area, as it's commonly known to both locals and tourists alike, reside the small towns of Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach - and the town I now call my home - Jacksonville Beach. These three communities, along with a few more small towns, make up the modest coastal barrier island, that is both officially and unofficially, known as San Pablo Island.
San Pablo Island is located just off the eastern coast of Florida, and nestled next to the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. The name of the island itself here is not known to most people… they tend to simply call home - The Beaches. And there’s yet even one other mysterious nickname given to our island home appropriately classifying it as ‘No-Name Island’ - very much reminding me of the funky, quirky, and strange and sometimes hilarious, names of some of the famous Key islands to our south.
But San Pablo Island has a rich and dated history going back hundreds of years, and even much, much longer. A vibrant Native American history lives and breathes here, and the Timucuan Indians lived here in the 1500’s, when a French explorer came upon the area. We now have the Timucuan Reserve named after them.
And while there’s a small and extremely old, weathered and worn, and really just a completely dilapidated sign welcoming you as much as you drive through our town - ‘You Are Now At San Pablo Beach’ it reads, (named after the San Pablo River)... I can only imagine how old that sign really is. And as the sign is so very old and worn, it seems to just camouflage itself to the natural grasses surrounding it. Many pass by daily not even seeing it.
We also locally have San Pablo Road, just off the Island and paralleling the intracoastal, and we have Pablo Avenue, right here at the beach.
A lot goes into a name… when you consider branding, logo, tourism, marketing, publicity, hotels and restaurants and newspapers and any press; history, town pride, changing times and culture, refrigerator magnets, tee-shirts, trinkets and treasures for visitors to take home, etc. Some years ago there was a push and really quite a major effort to help rebrand our area to more “officially” be called San Pablo Island. Hotels and the tourism industry in general liked the idea and I believe they still do. A name helps classify a location and familiarize those traversing to or through. A name slightly broad and confusing as “The Beaches” - plural - is not very brand-worthy it seems, except to those who already know the area and/or reside here.
And as those things tend to do, the effort and move to name-change seemed to stall, and fall apart in meetings and such. As many of those such changes and requests for changes tend to die out... Thus, today, we are still known as “The Beaches” to most, and confusion reigns for the tourism industry here.
In comparison, Amelia Island, located just to the north of us, is known as that - ‘Amelia Island.’ They seem to know their history, are ok with picking a name and staying with it, and they honor it well.
Princess Amelia, daughter of George II of Great Britain, is for whom the Island is named. But Amelia Island has a very rich and fascinating history as well, and they seem to be slightly more proud of it and they do a great job in educating the public of that history.
You absolutely cannot visit Amelia Island without learning upon arrival of the history of the eight flags. Signs will tell you as much and show you as much upon entry to the island. With my father being a huge history buff, I remember thinking at the time of learning about the eight flags that he would find it fascinating.
Amelia Island is famously known as “The Isle of Eight Flags” and is the only location in all of the United States with such a unique history. It simply means that the island has had power transferred through eight different flags before finally obtaining its current and official status as part of these United States. The history of the eight flags is known and proud on the island. When I first found that piece of information out I was utterly fascinated. And standing in great contrast is the tiny old and worn sign welcoming you to San Pablo Beach, here on San Pablo Island. It’s a welcome sign that really seems to get no care or concern, but it does its job every day and welcomes you to our island.
Pablo Avenue lies just a few blocks from our worn and ancient welcome sign, and its therein that lies The Beaches Museum. A Museum that celebrates Culture, History, and Community. And while our dated welcome sign doesn’t have much appeal, the Beaches Museum does. The history of this area is not very well-known to most, and this museum does an absolutely fabulous job of educating the public on our heritage and historical facts thereof. This historical marker and living piece of history is also a place most people drive past every day, and may not even know if its existence. In fact, I’ve lived right here in town just alongside it and had never visited it formally. Well, bring an Art Fest into town and I’ll go anywhere.
Hurray! Another Art Fest. And on yet another absolutely gorgeous autumn day in the South. All the variety of arts and celebration thereof here is actually one of the reasons I fell in love with Jax Beach.
This past weekend, The Beaches Museum hosted the 6th Annual Beaches Art Fest. It was a must-do for me. And while I had just recently attended the Jax Beach Vintage Flea Market some weeks ago, I had eagerly awaited this event all year as well.
This fest to me, supersedes any other fest around. The art on display is full of passion and color and depth. Every booth has the artist directly on hand to talk with as well which I especially love. And now, after being to many of these events, I’m recognizing names of artists that continue to come back and sell there each year.
I really enjoy how merely slowing strolling from one covered outdoor exhibit to the next that the eye immediately catches the difference in an artist's passion. One may specialize or have a passion for florals, and one may enjoy painting the many unique sunrise and sunsets of the coastal region. One booth was composed of entirely Japanese floral paintings. An artist may have blown glass, and one of the final tents I arrived at had on display works of art made entirely from origami paper. There were necklaces all beautifully arranged with tiny and intricately folded colored papers, making flowers, squares, any shape you could imagine, all folded out on her display table. Everyone, who once they understood what they were looking at, was completely wowed by it. It was a definite surprise to see, as I had never seen anything like it in my life, and it is for those reasons I relish with joy attending these fests each time they come around.
And I must admit I regret extremely not purchasing one of her paper origami necklaces. I also failed to obtain her card, thus, not being able to look up where she will be next. She explained the necklace I had my eyes on was only $29.00 and comes with a beautiful chain as well. A chain of length that I could custom choose. I walked on by, to think about it, and instead purchased a ring that I absolutely adore, from La Soucique Studio, of the aforementioned Amelia Island. It was $35.00 and I was so very pleased with my purchase. I know I can’t buy everything, and I reminded myself that money doesn’t grow on trees, but I do really very much regret not purchasing one of the origami necklaces. I can only hope to see her again at a future arts event and make that my purchase for the day.
While slowly we strolled both up and down San Pablo Street taking in the fest in its entirety, we also walked on through the property and grounds of Beaches Museum. It’s set up as a small historic village, spanning the length of the blocks next to the fest.
And as I had never been previously, I thought it an ideal day to check it out since we were already present literally at its location. Supposedly the museum is open 10am-4pm every Saturday, with free admission. We were somewhat disappointed to find many locked buildings. All we could do was take a quick peek inside most of the historic sites through windows, while the main building remained open and available to use the restroom facilities for fest-goers. We very much enjoyed walking the grounds though, and it was a most perfect autumn day in Florida to witness the natural beauty surrounding the facilities. The museum is home to parties, weddings, art exhibitions, the annual famous Polar Express, and many other such fun events for both adults and children alike. It seems The Beaches Museum has something going on year-round. I just highly recommend calling ahead to verify if you’d like to see the actual inside of some of the buildings.
It was an altogether ideal day in the South for me. And afterward, we ate breakfast, for lunch, at Beach Diner in Atlantic Beach. Every time I’ve been there the owner comes over to say a sweet hello. A much older man, whom you can tell genuinely loves his customers, stopped to talk with us as we ate our delicious meal. As we were paying up at the cash register on the way out I could see him still going round from table to table, smiling with and high-fiving each person he met. A most lovely Saturday on my very own Island… San Pablo Island. It made me smile as we walked to our car. ~
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