Historic A.L. Lewis house has been demolished.

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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.

Historic A.L. Lewis house at 5466 Gregg St., American Beach before and after demolition.

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.

A. L. Lewis

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.

25 thoughts on “Historic A.L. Lewis house has been demolished.

    1. Excuse me. What does this have to do with the Commissioners? 1) it’s in the COUNTY, not the city. 2) a permit was issued for INTERIOR renovation. I’m betting the people who issued the permit aren’t psychic and had no idea the actual plan was to tear the house down.

      Pointing fingers at ANYONE other than the owner and contractor is not doing anyone any good.

      At this point, the damage is done and I’m betting the owner was counting on people shrugging and saying “what can you do? It’s gone.” Then he will be free to build a McMansion and sell for millions.

      That should not be allowed. The owner and contractor should be held legally liable to REbuild the house according to the original plans or face hefty fines. And NO building permit for anything EXCEPT a rebuild should be issued.

      This isn’t just upsetting, it’s criminal.

  1. I do hope there will be followup on this story. WHO tore the house down and just how much are they being fined?? Are they going to be required to rebuild the house? If not, why not?? It was a HISTORIC landmark and the buyer HAD to have been told there were very strict requirements one must follow when assuming ownership. This CANNOT be allowed to happen.

    1. The permit was probably issued in the name of Land Trust #4022. Time to do a little detective work and find out who is behind that trust.

      “Trust”….and they just violated the trust of hundreds of people.

  2. Say the house Was not taken care of and during the next hurricane part of the exterior wall on one side blew down and knocked a hole in the house next to it who is the pay for it who is responsible for it? Just a thought there’s several houses at American Beach with her falling down what happens if they fall on the road? Are you going to offer your time to clean it up are you going to pay to have all the trash hauled off is the city supposed to pay for it? Maybe we should ask city officials to raise property taxes in order to pay for such things.? Would you pay an extra 10 percent on your taxes to go into a fund? I’m not saying that it’s not sad to see one of these historic homes go. I’m just simply saying somebody has to take care of them and who are you to dictate what somebody or should or should not do With their property with their property. I think it’s funny that we all care so much that this house was being destroyed but what about the other 10, 15 or 20 houses down there they’re falling apart.? At the end of the day if people cannot afford to take care of the house does that mean that they should not be allowed to have them? I don’t know about you but I work in construction and I can only imagine the cost of remodeling a historic house. Would you donate 5000 of your own dollars to see it restored? that’s that simple truth is it cost money no one has been putting anything up about all of the houses that are falling down there. that are dilapidated and falling apart show no love. Maybe instead of speaking about someone who is remodeling it and repairing it maybe we should be figuring out a way to help those who need that same help!! And I think if you ask A.L.Lewis if he cared as to whether or not the house was torn down and rebuilt from the complete ground up I highly doubt he would it is not a house that makes a landmark it’s the land it is a property in which the First African-American Summerhaven was founded what historical value does this household other than being the first house built there? Is it the house that makes American beach special or is it American Beach that makes American beach special? God bless hope you have a wonderful Friday thanks Drake Jewell

    1. Well, unless that house deteriorated one heck of a lot in the last 2 years, it did NOT fall down. It had SIGNIFICANT help. Additionally, the PERMIT was for interior remodel. If they wanted to tear it down they should have gone through the proper process. As for cost…somehow I don’t think Mr. Nelson requires money from any of us to “help” him save that house. I’d be willing to bet he never had any intention of saving it.

      “Maybe instead of speaking about someone who is remodeling it and repairing it ”

      But that’s the point. The owners SAID they were remodeling and repairing. That was what the permit was for. At no time did they mention demolition and they had no legal right to tear the house down. But you know the old saying, I’m sure, “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission”?? Well, given the owner’s past issues with legalities….it’s not so far-fetched that, rather than deal with the red tape of getting permission to tear it down, the decision was made to “accidentally” destroy it to facilitate the construction of a new, larger, more modern home. Simple solution is to deny a permit to build ANYTHING other than a reproduction of the original.

  3. OHHHHH! This is real news to me. I pass by the A. L. Lewis house nearly every day I never saw this coming, I thought that the house was being remodeled. Whether your property is confiscated or under the wrecking ball of “Mr. Eminent Domain or Ms. Urban Renewal” a permit is as insignificant as a dry leaf blowing in the wind. This is American Beach’s nadir blow and I regret that I am witnessing the carnage!!

    1. It is sad. My wife and I stumbled on American beach a few years ago and have been back a few times. The history that was just destroyed is heartbreaking and criminal.

  4. The person or persons behind such debauchery are the reason this area is going under fast. Reading this makes me sick to my stomach. How can someone have the PRIVILEGE of actually owning a piece of history then DESTROYING IT?! It breaks my heart that the wealthy asshats in the world have found our paradise and care NOTHING about the beauty, peace and serenity of it—-they are here merely to suck it dry of all they $$ they can earn from it, then leave.

  5. there is a sign out front marking it as an historic landmark, someone must be blind or unable to read. what’s wrong with people?

  6. What an irrevocable, shameful loss for Amelia Island this is! Does not the HDC have jurisdiction over American Beach too? This is an extreme classic example of the “Act first, seek forgiveness later” construction MO that seems to be becoming the norm where our treasures are concerned

    1. To clarify: American Beach is NOT in the City of Fernandina Beach. The city’s Historic District Council has no jurisdiction over COUNTY properties. Going a step further, although American Beach is listed on the National Register, such listing provides no safeguards governing improper renovation or demolition. Such protection must be provided via a local historic district ordinance, which the City has. Nassau County currently has no local protection measure in place to protect historic districts in the county.

  7. Will the responsible party get the same little slap on the wrist that MANY developers on the island have gotten for “accidentally” cutting down trees (in the middle of the night)? I think I already know the answer to that question.

  8. This is infuriating and devastating . . . we have such a unique place on the Earth that is so important to African-American history. The County Commissioners need to work with the American Beach leaders to deal with the consequences of such blatant disregard for the community and history. SHAME!!

  9. Again we see an ‘accident’? This is so odd to think that they knew it was a historic landmark, yet demolished it anyway. I’ll be watching as this progresses.

  10. Teri Springer’s solution here seems the most just possible outcome.
    Accountability lies with the owner/contractor, neither of whom is blameless.

  11. Apparently Mr. Nelson’s indictment and prison time related to the crimes he committed during his time at Jax Port did not dampen his desire to act above the law. While this story has legs, someone needs to help it RUN to Jax, Tallie and the national news stations.

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