The Williams House is one of the oldest and most historic homes in the town of Fernandina and has been named a Florida Heritage Landmark Site. Though built in 1856 by a wealthy Boston banker, it was purchased by Marcellus A. Williams in 1859 and it is for him that the house is named. Williams, a highly successful man was born in North Carolina in 1818. He married Emma Wightman and they had nine children.
The Williams House is guarded by its original iron fence, one of the few left standing after the Civil War. The fleur-de-lis detail reflects the French influence in the islands early history. The south wing of the home was added in 1880 and the beautiful porch gingerbread was designed by R.S. Schuyler a famous New York architect and added in 1860. He signed an agreement stating that he would not duplicate the striking design and it remains unique to this date.
Williams worked for the surveying firm of Lawrence Washington, a nephew of George Washington. The firm was deputized to survey Spanish Land grants in the state of Florida. One of his assignments was David Yulee’s railroad from Amelia Island to Cedar Key. Williams was one of the first to befriend the Seminole Indian Nation. Once his surveying days were over he partnered with Samuel Swann to locate and sell land for the state. In 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed him Registrar of the Public Lands for the state of Florida. At the time of his death in 1888 Williams owned almost 400,000 acres in Florida. The Williams family occupied this home for over 100 years.
During the time that the Island flew under the flag of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, a friend of Williams was a guest in the house on many occasions. It is said that Davis stored some of his furniture and personal affects in the home. During the war the family moved to Waldo, Florida for their safety. When Union troops occupied Fernandina, they used the Williams House as headquarter and the Hearthstone as an infirmary. Williams, who had released his slaves prior to the war, upon his return to the island, became active in the Underground Railroad, offering a safe house for slaves. A secret room exists in the dining room that was used to hide them until safe to travel.