To gain an appreciation for Florida’s history – read the Florida History section on this website. Welcome to the historic town of Pensacola on the western tip of the Panhandle in Florida. Pensacola was the very first Spanish settlement in what is now the United States, established in 1559 when explorer, Tristάn de Luna tried to set up a Presidio here, but the Presidio lasted less than 3 years, destroyed by Hurricanes and other disasters so St Augustine on the eastern Peninsula coast of Florida also claims the title, as it has been continuously settled from its first settlement that began on August 28th 1565. Pensacola was however re-settled by the Spanish in 1698, and that also makes it one of the oldest colonial settlements in the United States, realizing of course that the area had been settled by Pensacola Indians who spoke a Muskogean Language for thousands of years prior to the Spanish arriving. Pensacola islocated right next to Pensacola Bay, one of the three interconnected Bays here, the others being Escambia Bay and East Bay. All three Bays and the Fairpoint Peninsula where Gulf Breeze opposite Pensacola is located are protected from the open Gulf of Mexico waters by a long Barrier Island called Santa Rosa Island, with the Santa Rosa Sound waterway running along the island’s coastal side. The Santa Rosa Sound is part of the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3000 mile long shipping corridor used by barges, smaller ships, fishing and pleasure boats to stay close the coastline, rather than be in the open water of the Gulf itself. Construction of the Intracoastal Waterway began in 1826 and it continues today as an important shipping corridor. A long bridge, the Pensacola Bay Bridge connects Pensacola to Gulf Breeze and another shorter bridge, Bob Sikes Bridge connects Gulf Breeze to Santa Rosa Island, where Pensacola Beach is located. Most people coming to Pensacola come here for the beaches and fishing and the city of Pensacola has a resident population of around 50,000 people, with a bigger population spread out across the area surrounding the Bays. There is a lot to see in Pensacola and surrounding areas and these are some of the main sights to see –
Pensacola Beach – is located on Santa Rosa Island, with a spectacular brilliant wide beach and crystal white sand stretching along the Gulf coast with the water of the Gulf all right here. The Pensacola Beach Pier stretches outwards from the beach, and the Gulf Islands National Seashore is here too, with beachside cafes, bars, hotels, restaurants and beach style shopping here to wander around too. Besides swimming, paddle boarding and just enjoying the sun and ambience, there are also fishing charters, dolphin spotting and other activities that will get you out on the water –
- Aquatic Charters – 655 Pensacola Beach Blvd. Tel: 850 492 6337
- Bonifay Water Sports – 460 Pensacola Blvd. Tel 850 932 0633
- Emerald Coast Tours – 2 Via De Lune Drive. Tel: 850 417 9292
- Entertainer Charters – 655 Pensacola Beach Blvd. 850 232 8252
- Chulimar Inc. Fishing Charters – 701 Pensacola Beach Blvd. Tel: 850 934 8037
- Jolly Sailing – 655 Pensacola Beach Blvd. Tel: 850 723 6142
- Key Sailing – 500 Quietwater Beach Rd. Tel: 850 932 5520
- A Reel Eazy Charter – 1010 Fort Pickens Rd Tel: 850 932 8824
- Landshark Landing – 165 Fort Pickens Rd Tel: 850 916 9755
- Premier Dolphin Cruises – 400 Quietwater Beach Rd. Tel: 855 393 7783
- Pensacola Beach Sailing Tours – Gulf Breeze (different pick up points) Tel: 850 525 8808.
- Condor Sailing Adventures – 997 Palafox Street in Pensacola ( at the Palafox Pier Yacht Harbor) See condorsailingadventures.com Tel: 850 637 7245
ALSO in Pensacola Beach – look for the 10 feet high Cross that is the location of the first Spanish Christian service held in what is now the United States. Also look to see Fort Pickens (built 1829-1834) 1400 Fort Pickens Rd. The old Fort is in the shape of a Pentagon, with most but not all of its stone walls still intact. This is the Fort where the famous Indian Chief, Geronimo was held captive at one time.
Gulf Breeze – is located on the Fairpoint Peninsula between the two bridges – the long Pensacola Bay Bridge to leads to Pensacola and the shorter Bob Sikes Bridge that leads to Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola Beach. About 6000 people live in Gulf Breeze, with this being the location of the very first settlement established in 1559 by Tristάn de Luna.
There are around 18 miles of waterfront here, with boating, fishing and other activities being the main attraction. There is also the Naval Live Oaks Reservation, an experimental tree farm established in 1828 by President John Quincy Adams to provide the lumber for building navy ships. The Gulf Breeze Zoo – 5701 Gulf Breeze Parkway – See www.gulfbreezezoo.org Tel: 850 932 2229. There are around 900 animals here in an area of around 50 acres.
PENSACOLA – amazing history
Pensacola has played an important role in the history of the United States, given that it was the first Spanish attempt at establishing a Presidio here in 1559. When it was re-established in 1698 by the Spanish it formed the western end of the Camino Real (Royal Road) that connected St Augustine Missions on the east coast of Florida to Tallahassee and then to Pensacola. Just as in St Augustine, the Spanish also built forts and these can be seen today. From 1698 to 1719 Pensacola was under Spanish control, then French to 1722, back to Spanish until 1763, then coming under British control until 1781, back into Spanish control until 1819, handed sold as part of Florida to the United States, who lost it to the Confederate States during the Civil War from 1861 to 1862, before then regaining it back to become again part of the United States in 1862 which is has remained part of since then. All of these changes had an impact on the City and its development, with the biggest impacts being when the Indian Removal Act was passed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830 and in the changes in Policy and Laws enacted under the Spanish, French, British and American Governance, particularly as they related to Slavery and racial discrimination. The changes in Government has also why Pensacola is called the ‘City of Five Flags”. There are a number of places to gain an appreciation for the History of Pensacola and one of the highlights of visiting Pensacola is to see the old Pensacola Village
Pensacola Village – 205 E. Zarragossa Street. Tel: 850 595 5985. The Village has 22 historic homes, buildings and museums as part of what is called ‘Historic Pensacola’. See historicpensacola.org The best way to get a real feel for the stories and history is to take a walking tour, and these are some of the buildings that you will see –
- Barkley House – built in 1825
- La Valle House – built in 1805 (French Creole style) at 203 Church Street
- Julee Panton House – build in 1805 and Tivoli High House and Manuel Barrios Cottage.
- Old Christ Church – built in 1832 at 405 Adams Street
- Dorr House – built in 1871 at 311 Adams Street
- Lear- Rocheblave House – built in 1890
- Museum of Commerce – 115 E. Zarragossa Street
- T Wentworth State Museum – 330 S. Jefferson Street.
- Native Paths Cultural Heritage Museum – 3300 Beloved Path. Tel: 850 453 7382. This is a museum that honors the traditions, culture and stories of Native Americans in Pensacola.
- Pensacola Childrens Museum – Arbona Building, 115 E. Zarragossa Street with exhibitions and activities specially designed for children.
- Saenger Theater – 118 S. Palafox Place. A great Classic theater built in 1925 See pensacolasaenger.com Tel: 850 595 3880.
MILITARY HISTORY The Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, British and even Danish and Russian Colonial Empires were all built on finding fortunes – be that in gold, silver, spices, trade in all its forms and of course in owning land that could be developed for future wealth that could be generated through agriculture, mining and other means. Protecting Colonial Empire fortunes meant in most cases having greater fire power and strength in numbers – with faster ships, better cannons, muskets, strategically placed fortifications and well equipped armies. Even so, disease was often the greatest weapon of all in conquering many parts of ‘the new world’ with diseases such as Yellow Fever, Smallpox, Malaria, typhoid, even the common cold all playing a part in destroying indigenous populations. In 1692 a Spanish professor, Carlos de Siguenza Góngora (1645-1700) born in Mexico, and at one time a Jesuit priest, took on a number of academic roles, including that of a geographer, cartographer and hydrologist among others. In 1692 he sailed with the Spanish Commander Admiral Andrés de Pez (1657-1723) who had a few years earlier explored much of the northern coastline of the Gulf of Mexico on voyages in 1688 and 1689, when he also taken note of the deep water bays at Pensacola. On this 1692 voyage, Carlos de Siguenza Góngora mapped Pensacola Bay (what he named as “Santa Maria de Galve”) as well as the mouth area of the Mississippi, which led on to the Settlement of Pensacola being re-established in 1698. The new Presidio Santa Maria de Galve settlement was on western side of the main entrance to Pensacola Bay, and here the Spanish built Fort San Carlos de Austria. This site was just east of where a later fort, Fort Barrancas would be located. Two more Presidios would be established, one on the western end of Santa Rosa Island (Presidio Isla de Santa Rosa 1741-1752) and a third (Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola between 1754 and 1763) where the City of Pensacola is now located. Today the two most significant forts still exist – Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens.
- Fort McRee – was built as a three tiered fort on Perdido Key between 1834 and 1839. It was last used in 1942 during the Second World War, but all that remains of it today is Battery 233.
- Fort Barrancas – largely constructed between 1839 and 1844 is located on Taylor Road near the Museum of Naval Aviation. This fort is built on the site of older forts that were built mainly using logs of lumber and rammed earth. A succession of changes occurred under Spanish, then British and later American control – and there are tours that can show you through the Fort and tell you the story of its history and changes. Tel: 850 934 2600.
- Fort Pickens - is located on Santa Rosa Island, and was built between 1829 and 1834, next to the Naval Shipbuilding Yard. It is named in honor of Major General Andrew Pickens (1739-1817) from South Carolina who had fought in the Indian Wars against the Cherokee in 1760-61 and then against the British in the Revolutionary Wars between 1775 and 1783. During the early years of the Civil War the Union Forces were in control of Fort Pickens, with two ships also here too – USS Richmond and USS Niagara while the Confederate forces controlled Fort Barrancas and the Fort McRee. The Battle of Santa Rosa Island took place in October 1861 and by May 1862 the Confederate forces had vacated Pensacola. Today the old Fort is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore managed by the NPS National Park Service.
- The United States purchased Florida from the Spanish in 1821, and by 1825 Pensacola Bay was established with a Naval Squadron and Navy Yard for constructing ships. This was the age of wooden ships and sails, and in 1828 they established the Naval Oaks Reservation on Gulf Breeze to have their own oak timber supply. Changes in warfare and the age of steam saw the end of the great era of Sail, and then the steam era too also came to an end so in 1911 the Naval Base was decommissioned. A new era was however about to emerge and with World War I starting the former navy base role changed when in 1914 it became the Naval Air Station and very soon after, the Navy Flying School too, teaching aeronautics and training pilots and aircrew. It continues to perform that role today and today there are around 17,000 military and civilian personnel training, teaching or stationed here.
- The National Museum of Naval Aviation is also located here at 1750 Radford Boulevard in Pensacola. See navalaviationmuseum.org Tel: 850 452 3604. There are over 150 aircraft in the Museum, making it the biggest Naval Aircraft Museum in the world. There is also an IMAX theater X4D experience too – an incredible experience, where you can feel like you’re flying with the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron – who are also stationed here. See www.blueangels.navy.mil
- Pensacola Lighthouse – 2081 Radford Boulevard. This lighthouse was built in 1859 and you can climb up the 177 steps to the top for a great view. See pensacolalighthouse.org Tel: 850 393 1561.
- Civil War Soldiers Museum – 108 S. Palafox Place. Tel: 850 469 1900.
- Veterans Memorial Park – Bayfront Boulevard and 9th Street, is where you will find the Vietnam Veterans Wall.
Pensacola being on the Gulf Coast has also been hit with many big storms and Hurricanes throughout its history and it is likely that this will not change. It is however a great city to discover a lot of history, while at the same time enjoying the beaches, waterways, great seafood and if you’re lucky you might see the ‘Blue Angels’ fly over you while you are here.