Henry Flagler’s better known around North Florida for his ties to St. Augustine, but for a brief period in the early 20th century he also made a big impact on what is now Atlantic Beach.
His Continental Hotel, with giant lawns and an 800-foot pier, loomed majestically out of the wild beachfront. Opening less than a month after the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901, it burned to the ground Sept. 20, 1919.
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It was along an extension of Flagler’s East Coast Railroad that went from Pablo Beach — now Jacksonville Beach — up to Mayport, with a stop at the Continental Hotel. Beginning in 1907, it made another stop at Manhattan Beach, in today’s Hanna Park, the only local beach for the Blacks who helped build and staff the hotel.
The Continental was a draw to the rich and famous. In fact, in 2019, The Times-Union’s Sandy Strickland noted that it’s easy to “imagine television personality Robin Leach hosting a segment of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ from its picturesque broad lawns and wide beaches.”
She cited newspaper accounts that described “a grand place with 250 rooms, a riding stable, a nine-hole golf course, a dance pavilion, a huge dining room that seated 350 people and a 1,000-foot covered promenade … The hotel was 447 feet long, 47 feet wide and four stories high with six-story wings. It was built of Southern pine and painted colonial yellow trimmed in Siberian green. The rooms were furnished in quartered oak.”
New buyers renamed it the Atlantic Beach Hotel in 1913, which was its name when it burned. It was replaced a few years later by a less-grand hotel that suffered badly during Hurricane Dora in 1964. It’s now condominiums, with a much shorter pier.