Pensacola is an historic waterfront city located in the northwestern part of the state of Florida. Suffice it to say that Florida is a low peninsula state of the southeast United States. She is otherwise known as the ‘Sunshine State,’ and officially came into being on March 3, 1845.
While under British power, Florida was originally made up of two colonies. There was East Florida and West Florida, with their capitals known as St. Augustine and Pensacola respectively. It was until the year 1824 that Florida stopped using these two capitals. As at today, the capital of Florida is Tallahassee.
The City of Pensacola
Being one of the most visited cities in Florida, Pensacola is more than a holiday spot, the beautiful beaches, and a tourist center. She’s a city that is rich in history, one that surpasses a period of over 450 years. Visitors are often captivated by her hospitality and diverse entertainment options, yet find themselves fascinated even more by Pensacola’s unique and rich history.
All lovers of history, travelers, adventurers, or individuals who just love to study or know more about the cultural background of certain places, their museums, flags, local architecture etc., will discover that Pensacola has loads of rich stories and sites to explore.
One of America’s First European Settlements
Pensacola is widely regarded as one of the first European settlements in the world. Aside being two distinct and former capitals of Florida, Pensacola and St. Augustine have a very old dispute about which deserves to be known as America’s oldest European settlement.
Although St. Augustine is recognized as America’s oldest continuously occupied settlement, it is a known fact that Tristan de Luna y Arellano and some 1500 soldiers and colonists landed on the shores of Pensacola in 1559. That was some 6 years before St. Augustine was settled.
After some weeks, the Pensacola settlement was devastated by a hurricane that sank half the fleet, destroyed a large number of their supplies as well as killed hundreds of colonists. Having tried to hold on for few more years, they had to desert the settlement.
Archaeologists have since discovered the leftover’s of two (2) of the original ships that the hurricane sank. Furthermore, after another discovery (in the year 2015) of mid-16th century Spanish pot sherds and other ancient materials, archaeologists were able to identify the specific location of the 1559 settlement. According to them, it happened in a residential neighborhood in Downtown Pensacola.
These discoveries points to the fact that Pensacola is actually the nation’s earliest European settlement. A good question to ask therefore is; what is the difference between earliest, first or oldest? Are these words not just synonyms?
Pensacola is home to a large number of historic forts. Many of these forts are still standing till now. In the year 1829 up till 1844, William H. Chase, a U.S Army Major, supervised the construction of three forts in Pensacola. These forts which were largely executed by slave labor include; Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, Fort McRee on Perdido Key, and Fort Barrancas (now known as Pensacola Naval Air Station.)
These forts were in use all through World War II, and are still very much open to the public as at today. Fort Pickens – the biggest and widest of the three, is presently part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Named after Andre Pickens, due to his heroic deeds during the war, it took a total of 21.5 million bricks to build the fort, lasting a period of 5 years.
Fort McRee was specially designed to fortify Pensacola’s harbor. Although it was burnt in 1862 by confederate forces, it can be accessed by boat or on foot only. It was deserted and reduced to its foundations by the sea and storms. The ruins and wastes of McRee still offer visitors a historic view unlike any other in Pensacola Bay Area.
As for Fort Barrancas, it was built on the same hilltop as many other forts, and still possesses wooden remnants from the original 18th century Spanish fortification.
City of Five Flags
Pensacola is referred to as the City of Five Flags. This is representative of the five different governments that have ruled this beautiful city. They include; Spain, France, Britain, the Confederacy, and the United States.
Before the American Revolution, Pensacola was ravaged, rebuilt, and retaken as European powers battled each other for supremacy in the region. The American flag was hoisted in 1821 by General Andrew Jackson, putting an end to Spain’s control over Pensacola. During the civil war, Florida broke away from the union, but federal forces had Fort Pickens under their grip throughout the war.
Each June of every year, Pensacola celebrates the fiesta of five flags, a 10 day festival to commemorate the city’s founding by Don Tristan de Luna. Regarded as Florida’s oldest and largest heritage festival, the celebration features treasure hunts, parades, and historical re-enactments.
Cradle of Naval Aviation
Pensacola is also known as the Cradle of Naval Aviation. In 1914, as the U.S was preparing and getting ready for World War 1, Pensacola was selected as the base for the nation’s very first naval air station. When the war came to an end, Pensacola’s Naval Air Station had trained about 1000 naval aviators.
As at today, the site still trains aviators from all branches of the U.S military. Notable amongst them are astronauts Neil Armstrong and Alan Shepard. The site is home to the famous flight demonstration squadron – Blue Angels, and it also houses the world’s largest naval aviation museum, which happens to be Pensacola’s foremost attraction.
Conclusively, irrespective of what you want to call Pensacola, it is indeed a wonderful city with a rich history and enviable heritage.