A look back in Fernandina history – Fernandina Lyceum

Courtesy of Amelia Island Museum of History

The Fernandina Lyceum Association in 1874.
Photo courtesy of the Amelia Island Museum of History

Teen Peterson, Curator

“Masquerade ball a grand success: brilliant affair from every viewpoint.”  This was the headline in a 1912 edition of the Fernandina News-Record.  Here is some of the history we have collected about this important gathering place in Fernandina for about 75 years.

In December of 1872, George Dawson, Samuel A. Swann, W. N. Thompson, John Hedges, Thomas Kydd, G. Stark and others met and incorporated the Fernandina Lyceum Association.  The purpose was to “construct and build public halls or Lyceums in the City of Fernandina.”   The founders felt there was no place in the town of Fernandina where public gatherings could be held and that there was a need for good, wholesome entertainment and public gatherings.  Although shares were sold to fund the construction, making money was not considered to be the prime factor.

Beginning around 1850, an informal network of Lyceums was established in the United States, usually in small towns.  Professional speakers would tour from town to town, lecturing on history, politics, art and cultural topics, in general, usually holding open discussion after the lecture.

Lyceum Hall was built on the south side of Centre Street, between Sixth and Seventh Streets in 1873.  The lower floor could be used for dances, plays, festivals, concerts, or even a skating rink.  City and County Court were held on this floor prior to the completion of the Courthouse.

Blind Tom
Portrait print of “Blind Tom” Wiggins, celebrated pianist
Photo Courtesy of Florida State Archives – Memory Project

Some of the entertainers that appeared were the Four Pickets & Co., Miss Mabel Paige, and “Blind Tom”.  In 1888, the roof was destroyed in a fire.  In 1889, a festival given to benefit yellow fever sufferers.  May Day parades were important annual events.  Other events at the Lyceum included County Fairs, a small animal show, “hops” staged by the Fernandina Light Artillery.  The first record of a motion picture being shown occurred in 1905.

The building was sold and re-sold over the years. It was renamed the “Rex” theatre (for movies) in the early  1920’s and called the “Amelia” theatre in 1924.  Sound movies were first shown after 1934 by which time it was know as the  “Ritz”.  It was sold again and dismantled in 1952.

Bill Galphin published “Razing of Ritz Theatre Building recalls glamorous day of big time show business”  in the Fernandina Beach (Fla.) News Leader on February 29, 1952.

What did the Lyceum look like?  Does anyone have a photograph or more information about Lyceum Hall?  If so, please contact Teen Peterson at [email protected] or 261-7378 x.104.  To view more information about the Lyceum, or check out our online archives.  Go to www.ameliamuseum.org , choose Resources, Online archives, and use Lyceum for a keyword search.  Check back often as we are constantly adding information to our online archives and have reached 4000 items.

Editor’s Note:  The Amelia Island Museum of History is one of Fernandina’s greatest assets.  Our thanks to the museum staff and all those who volunteer for their many contributions to our community.

January 5,  2013 6:50 p.m.

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Charles Burns
Charles Burns(@obakucomcast-net)
11 years ago

Thanks, Teen. Please make a series of it!