Built in 1885 by Major George R. Fairbanks, a prominent Fernandina citizen, the house had such innovations as a telephone, a concrete sidewalk and indoor running water. This impressive home, an Italiante style, four-story, 20 room edifice with a 15 foot tower, was designed and built of the finest materials by Robert V. Schuyler, a New York architect. It has 12 foot ceilings, floors of heart pine throughout, and a marvelous staircase built of Honduras mahogany. The library had bookcases of orange wood from Fairbanks' own orange groves in Central Florida.
Of the ten fireplaces, two have English tiles depicting scenes from Shakespeare's plays and Aesop's fables. Six others are of soap stone with intricate carvings and two are large brick construction. The tower, which measures 10' by 10' with arched windows on all four sides, created a lot of interest for passersby. It is said that the step granddaughter of Mr. Fairbanks watched the great Jacksonville fire (some 50 miles away) in 1901 from the tower.
In addition to the telephone, running water and side walks, The Fairbanks had Fernandina's first elevator (actually, it may have been a large dumb waiter) which was used by the full-time woodcutter to move wood to the 10 fireplaces. The wood arrived by railcars about a block from the house. Dick, the woodcutter, would cut the wood and store some in cords in the backyard and the basement. When wood was needed, he would load it on the lift and fill the woodboxes for the fireplaces on each floor.
A cistern in the basement collected rain water and was connected to the kitchen pump. The water for the two bath tubs was sulfur artesian water supplied by the city.
Exterior colors were Victorian-era mustard yellow with windows trimmed in deep green, while the window sashes and arches were painted a brick red. (Today, the house is toned down shades of the original color scheme).
Rooms on the first floor included the entrance hall, a parlor, a dining room, a library and a guest room. The floors were covered with matting imported from China. The second floor boasted 4 bedrooms and a playroom over the kitchen. The 3rd floor was an attic for storage and play. Every bedroom had a dressing room with a washstand, basin, pitcher, slop bowl for used water and a chamber pot.
The kitchen, although separate, was joined to the house by a hallway. Ice shipped by steamer from New England was stored in a chest which kept fresh pails of butter and eggs from Tennessee. Barrels of flour came from New York. With the exception of fish, Fairbanks had to import almost all of their food.
George Fairbanks was described in Volume II, a History of Florida-Past and Present, published in 1923, as "an honored historian and a noble gentleman...His life was spent in scholarly pursuits, and whose pleasure centered in deep and productive study." Born in Watertown, New York, Fairbanks came to Florida in 1842 and settled in St. Augustine. He mastered the Spanish language in order to research the documentary materials which he used in writing Florida history. His "productive study" resulted in the publication of several histories of Florida and St. Augustine. One of his histories, written in 1871 and revised in 1904 as a textbook, was used for many years by students in Florida's publicschools.
Not only was Fairbanks an historian, he was a citrus producer, and at one time was president of the Fruit Growers of Florida. Deeply involved in the affairs of the infant state of Florida, from 1846 to 1848 he served as state senator. He was a founder of the Florida Historical Society of 1856, and served as the organization's first president when the Society reorganized in 1902. Fairbanks was founder and promoter of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee and actively worked on the university's reconstruction after the Civil War. Sewanee alumni are familiar with Rebel's Rest, the cottage Fairbanks built on the campus soon after Appomattox. Fairbanks used the cottage as a residence six months of the year.
David Yulee invited George Fairbanks to become editor of theFlorida Mirror, a widely respected newspaper published in Fernandina. Fairbanks accepted Yulee's offer and edited the Mirror from 1879 through 1885. Fairbanks died at Sewanee in 1906 at the age of 87.
After the Fairbanks moved away, members of the Marcellus Williams family, a family related to the Fairbanks, lived in the home. Later a family named Bussel lived there, and in the 1920's a private school run by Mrs. Irving Messick and Mrs. Clara Graham was housed here.
The next owner, W. T. Haile, was a prominent real estate and insurance broker in Fernandina. Haile had moved to Fernandina in 1921 from Farmington, Missouri with his wife and four daughters. A fifth daughter had already moved to Fernandina where she taught private art lessons and was a teacher of art in the public school.
The four lively young Haile daughters had become so enamored of the beautiful island and handsome local swains while visiting their sister, that after visits by the girls and their Fernandina friends back and forth between Farmington and Fernandina, the Haile family moved to Fernandina.
Haile established a business partnership with John T. Ferreira under the name Haile and Ferreira Real Estate and Insurance. Haile served as city commissioner and his wife was active in the Garden Club, Woman's Club, and in the First Baptist Church. Haile and several business partners at one time owned all of the acreage north of Atlantic Avenue and east of Egan's Creek including Fort Clinch. Haile was active in business until his death in 1941. Haile purchased the property in 1930, and members of his family were in residence there until 1981.
The house was purchased in 1982 by Buff Gordon and Sally Dickinson. With great dedication of purpose and their own physical effort and stamina, they renovated the Haile residence into elegant apartments. These ladies, however, were not the first female owners to attack needed repairs to the enormous old house literally with their own hands. Glyn Waas recalled his family's astonishment and consternation in finding that his elderly grandmother Haile had once more climbed up a ladder-bucket of tar in hand--to patch the roof!
In 1993, Fairbanks Folly (which it was labeled by local gentry) was converted by Nelson and Mary Smelker to the Fairbanks House bed and breakfast. In December of 1997, Bill and Theresa Hamilton purchased the inn and are your hosts today.
Cottage number 10 was built as servants' quarters for the Estate. Local historians are attempting to track down a rumor that cottage number 9 - the pretty pyramid roofed cottage to the south of number 10 - was the original school house on the island. This cottage was once located directly across Sixth Street.
Although the original architectural details, such as moldings, fireplaces, floors, wainscoting, staircase, and the lovely columns in the foyer remain as evidence of the former glory days, only one or two light fixtures remain as original furnishings of the house. However, recently, an ugly duckling original was acquired in Fernandina and lovingly added to their elegant antique pieces--a small, plain, but charming armoire--home at last!
In recognition of its historical significance, a marker was erected in front of the house in June, 1964, by the Clinch Historical Society of Amelia Island and THE FAIRBANKS HOUSE was listed on The National Register of Historic Places in l973.