Our family traveled to Washington, D.C., a few years ago and like most people visiting the nation’s capital, we set our sights on the many famous monuments and memorials the city is known for. It was educational and fun for the whole family, which got me thinking about monuments here in our own backyard.
Although most people visit our area for its beautiful beaches, Pensacola has a rich history dating back to the 16th century, much of which is depicted in statues and memorials around the city. A new idea for a staycation day – or a vacation day for those visiting our city – was born.
Here are a few highlights of the must-see stops to help you explore Pensacola’s trail of monuments. Palafox Street, which runs through the heart of downtown Pensacola, is filled with historical monuments and a good place to begin your tour.
Plaza de Luna, 900 S. Palafox St.
At the south end of Palafox Street is Palafox Pier and Plaza de Luna, a waterfront park overlooking Pensacola Bay. Its centerpiece is a bronze statue of Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano, the Spanish explorer who led the effort to establish America’s first settlement in what is now Pensacola in 1559. Plaques signifying each of the five flags or governments that have reigned over the city throughout its history are also prominent in Plaza de Luna. Another historic marker honors the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sebago. Kids enjoy the plaza’s splash pad, which operates seasonally March-October.
Plaza Ferdinand VII, 300 S. Palafox St.
If you have visited Historic Downtown Pensacola or any of the museums in this area, you have probably passed by Plaza Ferdinand. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the park is named for King Ferdinand VII of Spain. The Spanish throne gifted the land to Don Manuel Gonzalez, a political representative of Spain, who ultimately donated it to the City of Pensacola. Spain ceded Florida to the United States here in 1821, and Andrew Jackson, whose bust is displayed in the plaza, was sworn in as the first territorial governor. An obelisk monument in the park honors William D. Chipley, who brought the L&N Railroad to Pensacola. A fountain similar to one in Seville, Spain, was added in 1909.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, 50 N. Palafox St.
Erected in 1992, a monument and bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., honors the revolutionary Civil Rights activist in a dedicated plaza that occupies the median of Palafox between Garden Street and Wright Street. A plaque at the base of the bust is inscribed with a quote from King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. It reads, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” The plaza is frequently the site of peaceful protests for numerous causes, and many people gather here during Pensacola’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A popular farmer’s market, Palafox Market, takes place here on Saturday mornings.
Gen. Bernardo de Gálvez Monument, Palafox and Wright St.
Another marker of Pensacola history was completed in 2018 at the intersection of Palafox and Wright Streets. Honoring General Bernardo de Gálvez, the monument pays homage to the man who, on behalf of Spain, a U.S. ally in the American Revolution, delivered Pensacola from British rule in 1781. A bronze statue by Robert Rasmussen and Katherine R. Vincze depicts Galvez atop his horse facing the site of Fort George with his hat raised in victory. Gálvez was made an honorary U.S. citizen in 2014 for risking his life for the freedom of the United States people and providing supplies, intelligence, and strong military support to the war effort.
Monument for the Confederate Dead, Palafox St. south of Cervantes
Originally the vision of Florida Governor and Civil War Veteran Edward Perry, the monument honoring the lives lost in the War Between the States ultimately came about after his death, thanks to Perry’s wife and a group of ladies who formed the Pensacola Monument Association. They raised funds and the 30-foot monument of a soldier, which stands in Lee Square in the middle of Palafox Street near Cervantes, was dedicated in 1891.
Fort George Memorial Park, Palafox and LaRua St.
Fort George was a British fort built in 1778 and later captured by Spain during the Siege of Pensacola in 1781. Although the fort is no longer standing, portions of a recreation of the fort at the original site are still visible today at Fort George Memorial Park. It is located within the North Hill Preservation District at the intersection of Palafox and La Rua.
Veterans Memorial Park, 211 E. Main St.
Dedicated to the memory of service men and women who sacrificed their lives defending the United States, Veterans Memorial Park is a multi-acre public space near the Pensacola Bayfront. It is home to Wall South, the first permanent replica of the National Vietnam Wall Memorial, as well as memorials for lives lost in the Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the War on Terror. Other statues and plaques honor courageous individual efforts and local heroes. Special ceremonies are frequently held in the park, and it is a good place to take children or anyone who wants to learn more about honoring the U.S. military.
National Missing Children’s Monument, 499 Bayfront Pkwy.
Across from Veterans Memorial Park, on the south side of Bayfront Parkway, visitors can cross a pedestrian bridge over Hawkshaw Lagoon to observe “The Sanctuary,” a bronze sculpture by artist Sam Nettles. The surrounding park and monument, built in 2002, serve as the National Memorial for Missing Children, while also providing an observation point for the natural beauty and wildlife in and around the lagoon.
If you’ve never visited these monuments, you may not have realized how much history is preserved right in front of our eyes here in Pensacola. Which monument will you explore first?