About 1919 William Newton Murdaugh (“Newton”) and his wife Eunice were living in Jacksonville. Newton, a skilled sawyer by trade, saw an advertisement for a sawyer at a mill in the local newspaper. He traveled to Fernandina to inquire about the position and was immediately hired at the Sahlman mill then located on the current site of the Rayonier plant. The mill was very busy supporting the increase in road and bridge work after World War I.
The Murdaughs soon set about building a home at 29 South Third Street in Fernandina Beach. Materials for the home were mostly drawn from the Sahlman mill. The house stands today at the northeast corner of Third and Ash Streets across Ash Street to the east from Fernandina Beach’s art deco City Hall. About the time Newton started building Herbert Bowers’ father died and he moved from South Carolina with his mother Inez to live with the Murdaugh family. Inez, affectionately called Mama by everyone, was Eunice’s sister. Herbert was about six at the time of the move. Once in Fernandina, Herbert remembers living in the Florida House for about two months waiting for his new home to be completed. He also remembers being told that the corner of Ash and Third was earlier the site of an Anheuser Busch warehouse.
About 1923 Newton built the house at 25 South Third Street. Inez and her children (Bertie, Jessie and Herbert) moved into #25. Mama lived there until her death in 1976. In the family, #25 has always been known as Mama Bower’s House.
After the death of Newton in 1938 and Eunice in 1952 Herbert inherited the main home and adjoining properties. He and his wife Eloise were married in 1943 and raised two children there. Herbert and Eloise still live on Amelia Island.
Herbert and Eloise’s children, Annette of Nassau County and Herbert of Charlotte NC, have very fond memories of South Third and Ash; growing up in Murdaugh House (#29) and Mama Bower’s House (#25) and playing and raising flowers in their large backyard. Annette is the former President of the Amelia Island Chamber of Commerce and has been the MC for the Shrimp Festival parade for the last 15 years. Herbert has worked for IBM for the past forty years and visits his home town frequently.
In the spring of 2005 Chef Scotty Schwartz opened the Murdaugh house to the public as one of the Amelia Island’s newest during destinations.