The Hurricane of 1898 – My Grandmother’s Story

By Susan Hardee Steger, Granddaughter of Nannie Baker Hardee

October 24, 2022

Early in the morning on October 2, 1898, the H.J. Baker family was awakened by soldiers from the Spanish American War Encampment banging on their beach cottage door yelling, “Get off the beach, a tidal wave is coming!” The Hurricane of 1898 brought to Amelia Island strong winds reaching 90 to 100 mph* and a tidal surge between 12 and 15 feet. Nannie Baker, daughter of Hinton James Baker and Celeste Eve Baker, was 12 years old when the hurricane caused massive destruction in Fernandina and surrounding areas. Nannie was staying with her family at their beach cottage on Amelia Beach, now known as Main Beach. The Baker family, desperate to escape the storm and return to their home on North 6th Street, loaded up their possessions in Nannie’s pony cart, but the rising waters prevented crossing the causeway over Egans Creek. The Bakers hunkered down in the dunes to ride out the storm with Jimmy Guiseway Drummond, known as a recluse who lived in a palmetto-thatched house in the vicinity of the current Fort Clinch ranger station. T. Howard Kelly, a young Fernandinian who became a noted author and journalist, described Drummond as “Amelia’s last Indian-Negro” who charmed snakes and alligators.  

The tug Gladiator after the storm with a steamship and schooner in the background.

Back in town, the strong winds and the tidal surge caused immense destruction. According to the Florida Mirror, the Centre Street docks with a half dozen houses serving as restaurants and fish markets were torn to shreds. The surge lifted the tugboat Gladiator over the dock pilings and placed it on the riverbank’s edge. Kelly’s warehouse, situated on the dock, was full of goods to supply multiple ships entering the harbor. The tidal surge left Kelly’s hay, grain, flour, and large quantities of canned goods on “Centre and other streets.”

Townspeople and railroad workers assessed the damage at the Florida Central Peninsular Railroad ticket office in Fernandina.

The Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad ticket office and its other facilities suffered significant damage. “The water invaded every building as high as Third Street. A two-mast schooner now lies at the corner of Beech and Second streets. It was simply appalling to see large live oaks twisted into small fragments, while the air was thick with flying debris . . .” At the Reid Mill site located on the island’s north end, a building occupied by a family was destroyed. As the family fled, “two of the children were drowned within sight of the parents.” Years later, on April 6, 1923, a visitor from Portland, Maine published a letter in the Nassau County Leader describing a visit to Fernandina.  After a conversation with the caretaker at Bosque Bello, the visitors were told, “The Old Part of the cemetery is little else than a waste of sand hillocks. That part, so the old caretaker assures us, once contained the remains of early Spanish settlers buried as long ago as the 16th century. But a great tidal wave, 12 to 15 feet deep, swept over it  . . . and washed away and buried deep in the sands almost all evidence of the graves once there.” Upon the Bakers’ arrival back to town, they found the North 6th Street home still standing despite the force of the winds. To this day, portions of the home show a slight tilt to the north. Nannie’s pony fled during the high winds and rough seas. As calm winds prevailed, Nannie journeyed back to the beach, found her horse, and happily rode back to town.

Strathmore Hotel at Amelia Beach after the Hurricane of 1898.

By the end of the storm at Amelia Beach, 19 “pristine cottages” including the Baker family cottage, were washed away and the nearby Strathmore Hotel suffered major damage. The hotel was never opened as a hotel again, but one section became the “Casino,” a gathering place for public events. Years later, Nannie married Ira William Hardee Sr. To escape the heat of the Florida summers, Ira longed for a beach house for his family to enjoy. A still traumatized, reluctant Nannie let Ira have his wish with one condition; the house will not be on the beach.

Two downtown merchants and great friends built beach houses next door to one another. The A.S. Allan beach house is pictured in the front, and the I.W. Hardee Sr. home is in the back. Photo courtesy of the City of Fernandina Beach.

The Hardee beach house stood across the street from the present-day Circle K on Atlantic Avenue until the late ’60s or ’70s. The house survived many a storm, the last being Hurricane Dora. Now there only remains an empty lot, ripe for development.
* Today, the Hurricane of 1898 is considered a Category 4 with wind speeds reaching 130 mph. Read more about the Hurricane of 1898.

Author’s Note: The pictures used from the Hurricane of 1898 are compliments of a collector, Jim Hutzler of Alexandria, Virginia. Jim was kind enough to scan and share his photos by using a high-resolution scanner. His collection contained higher-quality photos of the impact of the Hurricane of 1898  than those available at the Amelia Island Museum of History. Thank you Jim for enhancing our museum’s collection!  

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Lisa Finkelstein
Lisa Finkelstein (@guest_66227)
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing this story, Susan. It’s unbelievable to see the destruction and imagine the panic due to no warning of the impending storm. And the photos make it so real.

Ernie Davis
Ernie Davis(@epd3)
1 year ago

Susan, You have such interesting details to illustrate a well known event. This could be the outline of a great adventure story: a girl, the beach, a pony, a hurricane, fear, a recluse and shelter, worried family, tear filled reunion and relief…

Lyn Pannone
Lyn Pannone(@lyn-pannone)
1 year ago

Susan, thank you for a peek into the earlier days of Fernandina. Your family was/is a link to the history of the island.

Wes Douglass
Wes Douglass (@guest_66232)
1 year ago

Suzan one of Drummons children work with me to hand hewn beams for the Williamsburg stile home for Bill Oliver in 1970. It is located on the corner of Atlantic and 16th. He said that his father and him built shrimp boats and had started the boat that was never finished, located by the bridge.

Lucy Blonn
Lucy Blonn (@guest_66250)
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Steger

I’m curious as well about the oldest, 16th century graves that were washed away(?) Would there be evidence of them, and where, What a story.

De’Bron Thompson
De’Bron Thompson (@guest_69707)
1 year ago
Reply to  Wes Douglass

May I ask what his name is I think I could be related to him

Tammi Kosack
Tammi Kosack(@tammi-kosack)
1 year ago

I love how you’ve personified the event with your family’s experience Susan. What an image of the prominent Baker attorney family hunkered with Jimmy Drummond, erasing difference and creating dignity. Catastrophes have a way of doing that it seems. Thank you for sharing this.

And thank you for noticing the very crooked doorway inside my home, built 1884-5. You immediately said it was evidence of surviving the great hurricane of 1898 due to its Northward list. In fact my whole house is out of plumb 4.5” from top to bottom from that hurricane. I’ve celebrated every crooked wall, and given you credit for teaching me the cause.

Paula Morris
Paula Morris (@guest_66236)
1 year ago

WOW! Suzanne, thanks for sharing.

Margaret Kirkland
Margaret Kirkland(@kirkland-mrk)
1 year ago

With so many suffering from the impact of Ian, this is a timely moment to look back at those cases in which our community dealt with such experiences. Thank you for sharing this!!

Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_66241)
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing Susan….so interesting.

Sally Newman
Sally Newman (@guest_66246)
1 year ago

Thank you, Susan for this incredible true life story! It was absolutely fascinating and a wonderful piece of Fernandina history.

Richard Sasser
Richard Sasser (@guest_66247)
1 year ago

Excellent story and photos.

Johnnie Brown Steverson
Johnnie Brown Steverson (@guest_66249)
1 year ago

I enjoyed reading your Granny’s 1898 experience, while reading and looking at the pictures my mind drifted into the chaos and into a wonder. Thank you for sharing.

Margaret Howard
Margaret Howard (@guest_66252)
1 year ago

Hi, Susan
I enjoyed reading about the 1898 hurricane. That was the year our house, 14 South 7th, was built. The 2 masted schooner, I was told, washed up in front of the old post office.

Have you put a copy of the article on the Museum?

Hope all is well. From Largo, Margaret

Marilyn Showalter
Marilyn Showalter(@showaltebellsouth-net)
1 year ago

Susan, such a great story. This would be a wonderful and exciting movie. Thanks for sharing.

DAVID LOTT(@dave-l)
1 year ago

Susan, an interesting “docustory” of this event. Thank you for sharing and to Jim for contributing the photographs.

De’Bron Thompson
De’Bron Thompson (@guest_69706)
1 year ago

Omg I was doing research about m family and this came up, I’m also a native to Amelia Island and I believe I’m related to Jimmy because my Great grandmothers last name is Drummond. Also she told me we used to own land on American Beach.