Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 13, 2020
The Nassau County Building Official is investigating how a permit to do an interior remodel of a historic American Beach home resulted in a demolition of the structure. It seems especially ironic that this action occurred during Black History Month — and that the house was the first house built on American Beach by the community’s founder, Abraham Lincoln Lewis.
According to records of the Nassau County Property Appraiser, the property was sold on April 13, 2018 by James Jack, Jr. to Land Trust #4022, whose office is located on 2933 N. Myrtle Avenue, Ste. 200, Jacksonville, FL 32209 for $304,000.
Abraham Lincoln Lewis (1865-1947) founded the Afro-American Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville. His contributions to the state, Jacksonville and Nassau County were so significant that he was named to the list of notables in the state publication Great Floridians 2000. About him the state wrote:
Lewis rose from poverty to become one of Florida’s first African-American millionaires. He was born in 1865 in Madison County and moved with his family to the East Side of Jacksonville in 1876. Lewis was one of the founding partners of the Afro-American Industrial and Benefit Association, the state’s first chartered black insurance company. Although the company was destroyed in the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901, Lewis rebuilt it, becoming the first manager of the association, which was renamed the Afro-American Insurance Company. In 1919 he became president of Afro-American Life, and in the 1920s began providing mortgages for individual homes. Lewis donated to public and private schools across the country for the education of African-American youth. In 1929 he built the Lincoln Golf and Country Club, a golf course where African-American celebrities from around the country came to play or dine. In 1935 he was instrumental in the creation of American Beach, a black summer haven on the coast of Amelia Island in Nassau County.
Due to the Jim Crow laws of the day, blacks were not allowed to enjoy many basic recreational amenities. A.L. Lewis realized the need for African Americans to have recreational activities for their families. In 1935, Lewis purchased 200 acres (0.81 km2) of Nassau County beachfront land along the Atlantic Ocean. Blacks were not permitted on most beaches in Jacksonville, and it was Lewis’ dream to create a community where African Americans could visit and own reasonably-priced homes along the ocean. This community, which he named American Beach, was a thriving vacation spot throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
A state historic marker was authorized to be placed outside his American Beach residence at 5466 Gregg Street. Since the state requires that these markers be associated with structures, it is unclear at this time if it will remain or perhaps relocate to the American Beach Museum.