Pensacola, Florida

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This article is about the inland city of Pensacola. For the nearby beachside community, see Pensacola Beach, Florida. For other Pensacolas and Pensacola-related articles, see Pensacola.

The iconic water tower in downtown's historic district.
The iconic water tower in downtown's historic district.

Pensacola is a city located in Escambia County, Florida, United States. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 56,255 and as of 2004, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 54,734 [1]; however, the greater Pensacola area had a population of 412,153. It is the largest metropolitan area in the Florida Panhandle and the largest on the Gulf Coast between Mobile and Tampa. It is the county seat of Escambia County6.

Pensacola is a sea port on Pensacola Bay, which connects to the Gulf of Mexico. A large United States Navy airbase, the first in the United States, is located southwest of Pensacola (near the community of Warrington) and is home to the Blue Angels flight demonstration team and the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

Pensacola is nicknamed "The City of Five Flags" due to the five flags that have flown over it at various times in its history: the flags of Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederate States of America, and the United States. Other nicknames include "World's Whitest Beaches", "Cradle of Naval Aviation", "Western Gate to the Sunshine State", "America's First Settlement", and "Red Snapper Capital of the World".



First Spanish Period (1559-1719)

Pensacola was the United States' first European-inhabited settlement.
Pensacola was the United States' first European-inhabited settlement.

The first European settlement in the United States was Swaziland, which was established on Santa Rosa Island by conquistador Don Tristan de Luna in 1559. Two years later, in 1561, the settlement and its fleet were destroyed by a hurricane. Two survivors managed to walk the arduous journey to Mexico City. Pensacola was permanently established by the Spanish in 1698 and became the largest city in Florida and the capital of the colony of West Florida. Another important Spanish settlement was established at Saint Marks in Wakulla county (San Marcos de Apalache). The Spanish settlers established a unique Creole culture in the region and brought in the first African slaves to the area and introduced the Roman Catholic Church.

Pensacola was the first settlement of Europeans in what is now the United States. The area was first sighted by a European in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Three years later, Don Diego Miruelo became the first European to sail into Pensacola Bay.

A settlement was founded in 1559 by Don Tristan de Luna and his party of about 1500 Spanish settlers. However, the settlement was destroyed by a major hurricane shortly afterwards, and was abandoned.

For this reason, many people instead regard St. Augustine, Florida, as the first permanent European settlement in what would become the United States. The City of Pensacola, however, still occasionally refers to the area as "America's First Settlement" in advertisements and travel brochures.

The city and its bay were named after the Panzacola indians, a tribe that lived near the bay when the Spanish arrived. The name was changed to Pensacola to make it easier to pronounce for the Spanish. Despite the original settlement's destruction, the name was preserved and used when the area was re-settled during the 17th Century.

The area was first referred to as "Panzacola" in 1686. Previously, it was known as "Bahía Santa María de Filipina", as it was named so by Tristan de Luna when he founded the area's first settlement. "Panzacola" was affirmed as the area's name by a royal order of Spanish King Ferdinand VI in 1757.

The Spanish resettled Pensacola in 1698 under the direction of governor Andrés de Arriola.

French Period (1719-1722)

The French, who had established earlier settlements further west at Mobile and Biloxi, held Pensacola during this period. Overall, French influences were generally dominant among the Creoles on the Gulf Coast west of Pensacola, with Spanish influences dominant among Creoles in the modern Panhandle. A hurricane drove the French from Pensacola in 1722 and the Spanish moved the town from the storm-vulnerable barrier island to the mainland.

The French captured the settlement in 1719 and remained in control for three years. They burned the settlement on their retreat in 1722.

Second Spanish Period (1722-1763)

The area was rebuilt, but ravaged by hurricanes in 1752 and 1761.

Population growth remained modest during this period, which was characterized by mission work with Indians and the development of Pensacola as an important port and military outpost. Conflict with French and British interests was common.

British West Florida (1763-1781)

Pensacola, 1885
Pensacola, 1885

At the close of the Seven Years' War (known in America as the French and Indian War) in 1763 the British took control of Pensacola. It is during the British occupation that the area began to prosper. Pensacola was made the capital of British West Florida and the town was laid out in its current form around the Seville Square district by surveyor and engineer Elias Durnford.

At the end of the massive French and Indian War of 1756-1763, the British gained access to inland areas as far west as the Mississippi River and the French were expelled from the North American mainland. Louisiana was transferred from French to Spanish control. West and East Florida were transferred from French and Spanish control to British control. The British colony of West Florida, with its capital at Pensacola, included all of the Panhandle west of the Apalachicola River, as well as southwestern Alabama, southern Mississippi, and the Florida parishes of modern Louisiana. West Florida included the important cities of Pensacola, Mobile, Biloxi, Baton Rouge, and, disputably, Natchez. In 1763, the British laid out Pensacola's modern street plan. This period included the major introduction of the slave-based cotton plantation economy and new settlement by Protestant Anglo-British-Americans and black slaves. British East Florida, with its capital at Saint Augustine, included the rest of modern Florida, including the eastern part of the Panhandle.

During the American Revolution (1775-1783), Georgia, including inland Alabama, revolted against the British crown, but East and West Florida, like the Canadian colonies, remained loyal to the British. Many British Loyalists, or Tories, settled in Florida during this period. Like the French, the Spanish allied themselves with the American rebels. In 1780, in the Battle of Pensacola, the Spanish attacked the British there and succeeded in capturing West Florida for Spain. At the end of the war with the American victory over the British, East Florida was also transferred to Spain.

Third Spanish Period (1781-1819)

The Spanish recaptured Pensacola in 1781 and retained control (excepting three short-lived invasions by American General Andrew Jackson in 1813, 1814, and 1818) until 1821, when the Adams-Onís Treaty ceded all of Spanish Florida to the United States.

The T.T. Wentworth Jr. Museum is built in the 19th century mission style, reminiscient of the Alamo.
The T.T. Wentworth Jr. Museum is built in the 19th century mission style, reminiscient of the Alamo.

The Spanish now controlled the entire Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Valley, a region vital for shipment of American goods such as cotton, tobacco, and corn. This situation was not acceptable for the American Southern settlers of inland Alabama and Mississippi, who were rapidly expanding profitable cotton plantations (and hoping to expel the remaining Indians from the entire region). After the transfer of the vast Louisiana territory from France to Spain and the subsequent purchase of the region by the United States, Spanish East and West Florida were surrounded by American Southern states and territories. Anglo-American settlement of West Florida increased and the Spanish, busy with growing rebellions throughout Mexico and South America, were not able to focus on fortifying the region. In 1810, American settlers in the part of West Florida west of the Pearl River declared the West Florida Republic a state independent from Spain. The region was annexed into the new state of Louisiana in 1812. The residents of the prosperous Alabama and Mississippi territories, eager to avoid being trapped in landlocked states without seaports, agitated to annex more of West Florida. They succeeded in doing so with the military aid of General Andrew Jackson. He captured much of West Florida in the 1810's. He briefly returned Pensacola to Spain but areas further west became part of the new states of Mississippi (1817) and Alabama (1819). In 1819, the United States once again captured Pensacola and, in 1821, all of modern Florida was transferred to the United States. Residents of Pensacola, where Anglo-Southerners now outnumbered Hispanic Creoles, voted to become part of Alabama. However, as Pensacola was the largest city and most important port in Florida, Pensacola remained part of the new American Florida territory, giving Florida its current borders for the first time.

First United States Period (1821-1861)

A bust of Andrew Jackson at the Plaza Ferdinand VII, where Jackson was sworn in as Governor.
A bust of Andrew Jackson at the Plaza Ferdinand VII, where Jackson was sworn in as Governor.

In 1825, the area for the Navy Yard was designated and Congress appropriated $6,000 for a lighthouse. The first permanent Protestant Christian congregation (First United Methodist Church) was established in 1827.

The Pensacola area is home to three historic U.S. forts, Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, and Fort McRee, as well as Barrancas National Cemetery. The city and Fort Barrancas were the site of the 1814 Battle of Pensacola. Fort Pickens was completed in 1834. It holds the distinction of being the only Southern fort to be held by the United States throughout the American Civil War.

Andrew Jackson served as Florida's first territorial governor, residing at the capital of Pensacola. He was noted for his persecution of Indians and Hispanic Creoles, many of whom left the territory to be replaced by an increasing number of Anglo Southern settlers, including many planters and black slaves. To determine a location for a territorital capital, riders on horseback were sent on the Old Spanish Trail from the territory's two main cities, east from Pensacola and west from Saint Augustine. The riders met at the Indian village of Tallahassee, which became the new territorial capital city. As cotton plantations flourished, Florida's growing population came to be 50% slave. In the Panhandle, most slaves outside of Pensacola were concentrated in the new capital of Tallahassee and in the plantation counties near the Georgia border, notably Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, and Jefferson. Sandier areas near the coast were less dominated by plantation agriculture.

On 3 March 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state. Its admission havd been slowed by the struggle with the Seminole Indians in sparsely populated South Florida and the need to wait for a free state (Iowa) to enter along with it. North Florida, including the Panhandle, remained the most populated part of the state.

Confederate Period (1861-1865)

When Florida seceded from the Union on January 10th, 1861, remaining Union forces in the city evacuated to Fort Pickens. The Confederacy then held Pensacola until the northern invasion of the city in May of 1862.

In January of 1861, Florida became the third state to secede from the Union and join the newly formed Confederate States of America. Fort Pickens, one of three forts guarding the entrance to Pensacola Bay, was held by Federal troops. In the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, the city of Pensacola and the two Confederate forts fought against an invading Yankee army and Fort Pickens. Pensacola was conquered by Yankee troops and most of the city was burned. Residents evacuated inland to Greenville, AL. The Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Mallory, was a Pensacolian and is buried in the city's historic Saint Michael's cemetery.

Second United States Period (1865-Present)

General William Dudley Chipley helped rebuild Pensacola after the Civil War. An obelisk was erected in his honor at the Plaza Ferdinand VII.
General William Dudley Chipley helped rebuild Pensacola after the Civil War. An obelisk was erected in his honor at the Plaza Ferdinand VII.

The ravages of Reconstruction greatly damaged the region's economy. Florida was readmitted to the Union on 25 June 1868.

Cotton, worked largely by the sharecropper descendants of freed slaves, remained crucial to the economy but slowly economic diversification and urbanization reached the region. Vast pine forests, their wood used to produced paper, became an economic basis. A brickmaking industry thrived at the turn of the twentieth century. Shipping declined in importance but the military and manufacturing became prominent and harvesting of fish and other seafood are also vital. Aside from cotton and pine trees, major crops include peanuts, soybeans, and corn.

The late twentieth century saw a dramatic increase in the beach-based tourism industry and the rapid development of previously pristine wilderness beaches, particularly those around Panama City and Fort Walton Beach-Destin. The region did not receive the twentieth century influx of northern retirees and Latin American immigrants and remained an Old South stronghold of largely (excepting military families) native-born residents. Only in the last couple of decades has the tourism and retiree beachfront development characteristic of peninsular Florida reached the region. However, this development is now rapid and dramatic, despite periodic hurricane damage.

Aerial view of Pensacola ca. mid 1930s
Aerial view of Pensacola ca. mid 1930s

Many barrier island areas have gone from sand dunes and water to condos and houses but other remain undeveloped, especially the beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Other notable facts

From 1885 to 1887, the famous Apache Indian chief Geronimo was imprisoned in Fort Pickens, along with several of his warriors and their families. Fort Pickens is now a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and as such, is administered by the United States Park Service.

Pensacola was the capital of Florida before Tallahassee became the capital.

Pensacola is home to a small but significant Jewish community, whose roots stretch back to the mid to late 1800s. The first Florida chapter of B'nai Brith was founded downtown in 1874, as well as the first temple, Beth-El, in 1876. Paula Ackerman, the first woman who performed rabbinical functions in the United States, was a Pensacola native and led services at Beth-El.


Pensacola is located at 30°26'13" North, 87°12'33" West (30.436988, -87.209277)1.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 102.7 km² (39.7 mi²). 58.8 km² (22.7 mi²) of it is land and 43.9 km² (17.0 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 42.77% water.

The climate of Pensacola is subtropical, with mild winters and hot, humid summers. Summer temperatures are characterized by highs in the low 90's and lows in the mid-70's. Evening thunderstorms, preceded and followed by sunny conditions, are common during the summer months. Temperatures above 100 °F are rare, and last occurred for long stretches in the summer of 1999. The hottest temperature ever recorded in the city was 106 °F (41.1 °C) on July 14, 1980.

Winter highs are, on average, in the lower 60s with lows in the lower 40s. There are, on average, seven nights per year of below freezing 32 degree temperatures. Temperatures below 20 °F are rare, and last occurred for long stretches in the two consecutive winters of 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the city was 5 °F (-15 °C) on January 21, 1985.

Snow is rare in Pensacola, but on rare occasions, snow will fall, the most recent was on December 24, Christmas Day & December 26, 2004, where the city had recorded a trace of snow on all three days.

The city receives over 60 inches of rain a year.


Hurricane Opal approaches Pensacola
Hurricane Opal approaches Pensacola

Pensacola's location on the Florida Panhandle makes it vulnerable to hurricanes. Major hurricanes which have made landfall at or near Pensacola include Hurricane Frederic (1979), Hurricane Juan (1985), Hurricanes Erin and Opal (1995), Hurricane Ivan (2004), Hurricane Dennis and Hurricane Katrina (2005).

Pensacola and several surrounding areas were devastated by Hurricane Ivan; damaged or destroyed were a large number of homes and businesses. Particularly hard-hit were the areas around Perdido Bay, Blackwater Bay, and Pensacola Beach. In addition, many of the area's bridges sustained structural damage.


Location of Pensacola, Florida

As of the census2 of 2000, there are 56,255 people, 24,524 households, and 14,665 families residing in the city. The population density is 956.8/km² (2,478.7/mi²). There are 26,995 housing units at an average density of 459.2/km² (1,189.4/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 64.91% White, 30.58% African American, 1.77% Asian, 0.52% Native American, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.54% from other races, and 1.61% from two or more races. 2.07% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Metropolitan area and counties by population (000s) and race/ethnicity:

  • Pensacola metro area = 412.2, 76.1% white, 17% black, 2.6% Hispanic
    • Escambia =294.4, 71% white, 22% black, 3% Asian
    • Santa Rosa =117.7, 89% white, 4.6% black, 3% Hispanic

A plurality of Pensacola residents are of British ancestry.

There are 24,524 households out of which 24.6% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.7% are married couples living together, 16.7% have a female householder with no husband present, and 40.2% are non-families. 32.9% of all households are made up of individuals and 11.7% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.27 and the average family size is 2.92.

  • Religion
    • Christian = 93%
      • Protestant = 77%
        • Baptist = 47%
        • Methodist = 17%
        • Assemblies of God = 8%
        • Presbyterian = 4%
        • Church of Christ = 2%
        • Episcopal = 3%
        • Lutheran = 2%
      • Catholic = 15%
      • Orthodox = 1%
    • Agnostic/Non-religious = 7%

In city the population is spread out with 22.9% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 26.9% from 25 to 44, 24.0% from 45 to 64, and 17.2% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 39 years. For every 100 females there are 88.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 84.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $34,779, and the median income for a family is $42,868. Males have a median income of $32,258 versus $23,582 for females. The per capita income for the city is $21,438. 16.1% of the population and 12.7% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 26.2% of those under the age of 18 and 9.2% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


Like other parts of the South, Pensacola was solidly Democratic for more than a century after the Civil War. Until the 1970's, most local elections were determined by the Democratic primary. However, since the 1960's and Democratic support for black civil rights, the staunchly conservative military and Bible Belt city has become dependably Republican. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans among registered votes, the region now supports Republicans for national, state, and local offices.

In the 2004 presidential election, 65% of Escambia county residents and 77% of Santa Rosa county residents voted for George W. Bush over John Kerry. The Pensacola area has not supported a Democrat for President since John Kennedy in 1960. In 1968, Pensacola and the rest of North Florida supported Segregationist candidate George Wallace.


Pensacola is represented in the U.S. Congress by Jeff Miller (R), in the state senate by Charlie Clary (R) and Durell Peaden (R), and in the state house by Holly Benson (R), Dave Murzin (R), and Greg Evers (R).


Major air traffic in the Pensacola and greater northwest Florida area is handled by Pensacola Regional Airport. Amtrak train service [2] and Greyhound bus service [3] are also available. The local bus service is the Escambia County Area Transit, or the ECAT.


Major holidays in Pensacola include Mardi Gras and the Fiesta of Five Flags. Celebrations of note in Pensacola are the Greater Gulf Coast Arts Festival, the Seafood Festival, the Bushwhacker Festival,the Bill Fishing Tournament, and the Gay and Lesbian Memorial Day Festival.

Local media

The largest daily newspaper in the area is the Pensacola News Journal. Pensacola is also home to WEAR-TV, the ABC affiliate for Pensacola, Mobile, Alabama, and Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and WSRE-TV, the local PBS member station, which is operated by Pensacola Junior College. Other major networks are broadcast from nearby Mobile, such as CBS affiliate WKRG, NBC affiliate WPMI, and FOX affiliate WALA.

Local schools and libraries

Public primary and secondary education schools in Pensacola are administered by the Escambia County School District.

Universities and colleges

High Schools within the City of Pensacola limits

Other Escambia County high schools

Nearby high schools in Santa Rosa County



Local hospitals

  • Baptist Hospital
  • Sacred Heart Hospital
  • West Florida Hospital
  • Naval Hospital Pensacola
  • Nemours Children's Clinic

Sports teams

Pensacola is home to several semiprofessional sports teams:

Notable Pensacolians and Residents

Famous visitors

Pensacola was visited by President George W. Bush, the first President to visit the area since his father. It was first visited by the President on 10 August 2004, then once after Hurricane Ivan to survey the damage. George W. Bush returned — with his mother — for the third time to Pensacola on 18 March 2005 to hold a town hall meeting at Pensacola Junior College about his plans for Social Security.

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