According to local legend, Sarah Alice Broadbent was so protective of her island home off the Florida coast she would shoot at unwelcome visitors. Broadbent lived in a wood-frame house on Crane Island, a gorgeous stand of oak trees and palmettos on the Intracoastal Waterway, from 1886 (when she moved there from England with her father and sister) until her mysterious death in 1952. She was known for being fiercely independent, eccentric, and totally self-sufficient, living off a small garden and whatever fish she could catch. After her home burned down in a fire, she was never seen again, and her body was never recovered.

Courtesy of Nick Deonas

It’s hard to blame Sarah Alice for being a little testy about interlopers. Crane Island is a rare piece of property with sweeping water views that’s been virtually untouched by development, despite the fact that it’s only four miles from the charming town of Fernandina Beach. A new bridge has made the island much more accessible (Sarah Alice used to walk to town barefoot through the marsh to get supplies), though it still feels wild, with egrets wheeling around a tidal pond, dolphins frolicking in the Intracoastal, and a pair of bald eagles nesting in a tall pine.

Nick Deonas as a boy by the chimney
Courtesy of Nick Deonas

Crane Island is also the site of the 2019 Southern Living Idea House, one of 113 homes that will be built on the 185-acre property (100 acres of which are in conservation) in two phases. With mostly large lots, native vegetation, and limited impact on the environment, the island is intended to be a retreat for nature lovers. A sizeable park, which the developers are calling Alice Park, cuts across the island, giving residents a place to walk, bird watch, enjoy the breezes, and socialize. A “River House,” with a pool and a fishing pier, will serve as a gateway to the river, as well as a gathering spot and a place to watch the sunset. One of the main roads on the property will be called Broadbent Way.

John Hillman

The new islanders will probably be a lot more welcoming than Sarah Alice, though her independent spirit will always be part of Crane Island’s character. Nick Deonas, a local boatbuilder, knew Sarah Alice when he was a boy, and he visited her house the day after it burned. “She was a nice lady,” he says. “I remember my mother and grandmother sitting around talking about her. They said, ‘It’s such a crazy world, but Sarah Alice has got it right. We should just go out to Crane Island and live with her.’” For a lucky few, that idea will soon become a reality.

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