Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Historical Marker Puts Nassau Ghost Town Back on the Map; Italia Was Born out of the Railroad, Then Disappeared, but Descendants of the Founder Seek to Honor the Village's History

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Historical Marker Puts Nassau Ghost Town Back on the Map; Italia Was Born out of the Railroad, Then Disappeared, but Descendants of the Founder Seek to Honor the Village's History

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan

There's not much left of Italia along Florida A1A northeast of Callahan, just a worn-out house and a little cemetery in the woods.

But in 1882, when Florida was marketed as America's Italy, Italia was born along the Florida Transit Railway between Fernandina Beach and Cedar Key. Then, the railroad moved and William MacWilliams' little Nassau County village became a ghostly memory that disappeared from the map.

That might change today when MacWilliams' descendants dedicate a state historical marker on Florida A1A, smack dab in the middle of what was Italia. Heber MacWilliams, the village founder's great-grandson, sought to have it erected to put Italia back on maps like Google Earth.

"I did it because Italia is disappearing," the Ohio resident said. "... As maps are updated, Italia will disappear, and I didn't think that was a good thing. There needed to be a memorial for the pioneers who came with an axe and a dream to carve out something from the wilderness."

MacWilliams will be joined today by Sheila Greenleaf, the great-great-granddaughter. The St. Augustine resident has a photograph of her dapper ancestor in a silk cravat with waxed moustache. Now, more will remember the village he founded.

"There is nothing there that would give any indication that the town existed," Greenleaf said. "So, it is heartwarming that it will be put back on the map."

MacWilliams was an Irish immigrant who had already founded a town in Putnam County named after him, now known as Hollister. A "social climber," according to his great-grandson, MacWilliams knew railroad owner David Yulee, who made an offer he couldn't refuse.

"aeIf you build a brickworks along my railroad, I will buy a million bricks,'a" Yulee told his great-grandfather, said Heber MacWilliams. "MacWilliams wanted to be close to power, and Yulee had it. …

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