Five Historical Stops While Visiting Downtown Pensacola
When thinking of historic cities in Florida, many people quickly reference St. Augustine, Ybor City or Key West. Yet, locals know, one of the most historic cities in the Southeast is Pensacola. In Downtown Pensacola alone, there are more than a dozen historical sites to visit. On your next visit, here are five historic stops just to get you started.
Palafox Street - Built when the British were in control of Florida in 1763 and originally named George Street, once the Spanish regained control of Florida during the American Revolution a new city plan was put in place and the street names changed to reflect the Spanish heritage. The street became Palafox Street, named in honor of Jose de Palafox y Melzi, a Spanish general and the Duke of Zaragoza, a city in Spain. In recent years, the American Planning Society named Palafox Street one of the Great Streets in America.
Plaza Ferdinand - The park begins on the Southeast corner of Palafox and Government streets. Built by the British, it served as parade grounds for the troops until the Spanish regained control of the region and it was renamed in honor of King Ferdinand the VII of Spain. On July 17, 1821, Plaza Ferdinand was the site where the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States and General Andrew Jackson was sworn as Florida’s first territorial governor.
FortGeorge – George Street (now Palafox Street) once led up the hill to a fort, called Fort George. Historic markers, a rebuilt portion of the fort and a bust of Bernardo de Galvez now sit at the corner of La Rua Street and Palafox where the fort once stood. In 1781, five years into the Revolutionary War, the Spanish, led by Bernardo de Galvez, came back to Pensacola in a battle called the Siege of Pensacola. The siege lasted three months and ended on May 8, 1781. Today we recognize May 8th as Galvez Day in Pensacola. The Siege of Pensacola played an important role in the American Revolution because when Spain regained control of Florida they blocked the British from accessing the Mississippi River, which they planned on using as a way to send reinforcements to surround Washington’s army at the Battle of Yorktown. Some historians claim that if the Spanish had not taken Florida at that time, the colonists might not have won and the revolution could have been extended.
Intersection of Tarragona Street and Zaragoza Street – When people think of the Wild West, most don’t think of Pensacola. When most people hear the name John Wesley Hardin, they may remember a Bob Dylan album with a very similar name John Wesley Harding. However, the real John Wesley Hardin, without the “g,” was a famous outlaw known for being one of the fastest gunslingers in the West. And on August 24, 1877, Hardin was captured at this intersection in Downtown Pensacola. At the time, Hardin was wanted for the murder of upwards of twenty men, some sources have the number over 70. Law enforcement got word that Hardin was hiding out on the Florida/Alabama border and when Texas Rangers caught up with him, Hardin was on a train to Pensacola. When approached by the lawmen, Hardin drew his gun but it got caught in his suspenders. He was captured and sentenced to prison.
Belmont-Devilliers – Once known as “the Blocks,” the Belmont-Devilliers neighborhood was historically the center of the African-American community after the Jim Crow laws took effect in 1905. In the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s the Blocks was a thriving community. Segregation kept black musicians from performing in “white only” establishments and in order to keep them working, the “Chitlin Circuit” was born. Artists such as Billie Holiday, Cab Callaway, Ike and Tina and Etta James performed in the clubs and bars of Belmont-Devilliers. Today, Blue Dot — which opened in 1947 and was named after the original owners, Blue and his wife Dot —is still making the best hamburgers in Pensacola. Hands down. For amazing Southern cooking, Five Sisters Blues Café is in the former site of Gussie’s Record shop on the bottom floor and WBOP radio station on the top floor. WBOP was the first African-American radio station in Pensacola. It began broadcasting in the 1950s and stopped in 1988. Chizuko is a new bar that occupies the former famous Abe’s 506 Club. Adjacent to Five Sisters was a nightclub called J.P. Newton’s Sugar Bowl, later called the Bunny Club. Along with Abe’s 506 Club, the Bunny Club played an important role in the Chitlin Circuit.