Located in northwest Florida, ten miles from the Alabama state line on its panhandle, Pensacola is rich in historic, military aviation, and natural sights, all with Florida’s signature sun, sand, seafood, and water aspects.
Although St. Augustine, on Florida’s east or Atlantic coast, is considered the oldest US city and took root after Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles sailed to it and established a colony, Pensacola, on the state’s west or Gulf of Mexico side, could have claimed the title if its own settlement had lasted.
Six years earlier, in August of 1559, Spanish explorer Tristan de Luna dropped his own anchor in an area local tribes named “Panzacola,” for “long-haired people,” with the intention of carrying out Luis de Velasco, the Mexican viceroy of Spain’s order of establishing a settlement on the bay.
Well provisioned and prepared, he was equipped with 11 ships and brought 1,500 would-be colonists, among whom were African slaves and Mexican Indians. But history was forced to take the wrong fork in the road when a fierce hurricane decimated eight of de Luna’s vessels on September 19.
Nevertheless, in an effort to salvage the expedition, he sent one of them to Veracruz, Mexico, to elicit aid, leaving the immigrants to eke out an existence on shore and survive by draining the supplies they had brought. Yet, instead of re-provisioning the colonists, the ships, arriving a year later, only rescued the survivors by taking them to Havana and leaving little more than a military outpost by the spring of 1561. By August, the handful of soldiers abandoned the new land site and returned to Mexico, deeming it too dangerous for settlement.
Although it was beyond knowledge at the time, a claim-to-fame as the oldest, continuous US city it would never be able to make.
It would be almost 150 years, in 1698, in fact, that foreign forces would once again seek to gain a foothold-in this case, Spain established a more successful garrison in what would become modern-day Pensacola and toward that end laid out a colonial town.
As has so often occurred throughout history, land, once claimed, became the prize others sought, often by military means, and Pensacola proved no exception. Spaniards initially surrendered to the French in May of 1719, but it was hardly the end of its ownership. France, Spain, Britain, and Spain once again would take possession over the next century, until the latter finally ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. Because the Confederacy also “took up residency,” Pensacola is considered the “City of Five Flags.”
A significant portion of its almost 500-year history has been preserved and can be experienced in the Pensacola Historic District, which is managed by the UWF Historic Trust, itself an organization supported by the University of West Florida, and it consists of 27 properties on the National Register of Historic Places.
Admission, only purchasable for a week, includes guided tours and visitor entry, and tickets can be obtained at Tivoli High House.
Important structures are many. Seville Square, for example, is the center of the old settlement and served as one end of the British route’s parade ground, ending at its twin, Plaza Ferdinand VII. It was here that General Andrew Jackson accepted the West Florida territory from Spain in 1821 and first raised the US flag.
A small, preserved section of Fort George, a target of the American Revolution’s Battle of Pensacola, is symbolic of British occupation from 1763 to 1781.
Original houses abound, including the Julee Panton Cottage, the 1805 Lavalle House, the 1871 Dorr House, and the 1890 Lear-Rocheblave House.
The Old Christ Church, located on Seville Square and built in 1824 by slave labor, is the oldest of its kind in the state to still occupy its original site.
There are also several museums: the T.T. Wentworth, Jr., Florida State Museum, which was constructed in 1908 and originally served as the City Hall, the Pensacola Children’s Museum, the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center, and the Museum of Commerce.
Although not technically part of the Pensacola Historic District, the Pensacola Grand Hotel is located on the site of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad’s passenger depot, which itself was constructed in 1912 to replace the original 1882 L&N Union Station that served Pensacola for 58 years. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Restored in its original splendor and transformed into a hotel with a 15-story glass tower, it retains much of its early decoration, including a French clay tile roof and a ceramic mosaic tile floor, and is adorned with period pieces, such as a solid, drop-cast bronze light and antique furnishings.
Its opulent “1912, The Restaurant,” located on the ground floor, features entryway Biva doors from London, a cast-bronze French-style chandelier from Philadelphia, 1885 beveled glass from a Victorian hotel in Scranton, and scalloped-shaped grill work from Lloyd’s of London.
Naval Air Station Pensacola:
There are several significant attractions on Naval Air Station Pensacola, which can be accessed by the visitor’s gate and requires identification, such as a license, to enter
Located itself on the site of a Navy yard that was erected in 1825, it began as an aviation training station at the outbreak of World War I with nine officers, 23 mechanics, eight airplanes, and ten beach-propped tents, and was considered the first of its kind.
Dramatically expanding because of the Second World War, it trained 1,100 cadets per month, who collectively flew some two million hours. After its Naval Air Basic Training Command relocated its headquarters from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Pensacola, pure-jet aircraft were incorporated in the syllabus. Today, 12,000 active military personnel, 9,000 of whom receive aviation training, are assigned to the station.
The world-renowned National Naval Aviation Museum, also located here, is the largest and one of Florida’s most-visited attractions. It began not as a tourist sight, but instead as a means of including naval aviation history in cadet curriculums, for which there was neither sufficient time nor funding for the traditional book-and-study modality. diamond painting bilder