Pensacola is a destination grounded in its history. The Spanish established the first European colony in North America here, Andrew Jackson accepted Florida into the United States here, and admirals and presidents have called Pensacola home while they trained with the Navy here.
As part of the momentous historical events, the smaller, “micro” histories come, too. Something as mundane as the architecture and geography of the homes where people lived, considered through the prism of history, become informative and artistic.
Centuries of Pensacola’s residential history lives in both homes that have been conserved and those that continue to be used as family estates.
In Downtown Pensacola, the University of West Florida Historic Trust has assembled a collection of historic buildings, including homes, that speak to our past. Here are three homes recommended by the trust’s historic preservationist, Ross Pristera. These homes are available for tours from Tuesday through Saturday, at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m:
The Dorr House, 311 S Adams St, Pensacola
The Dorr House, constructed in 1871 for Clara Barkley Dorr and her five
children, is a two-story home with a Victorian era house plan and Greek Revival architectural elements, an unusual combination for the time.
Built primarily of local yellow pine and brick, the Dorr House did not have electricity or running water at the time it was constructed, and gas lighting was not available in Pensacola until 1884. Therefore, kerosene, oil or candles would have powered the original fixtures. In 1890, the large bay window in the parlor was installed, the only structural addition to the home.
In 1974, the Dorr House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Historic Pensacola Preservation Board purchased the home a year later, made renovations, and reopened the home as a house museum in 1980. Both floors are decorated to resemble what the home might have looked like when the Dorrs lived there; several items in the home belonged to the family.
Charles Lavalle House, 205 E Church St, Pensacola
The Charles Lavalle House dates from around 1805 and is one of the oldest houses in Pensacola. The home was originally constructed at 111 West Government St. but was moved to its present location to save it from demolition.
The Lavalle House is an example of French Creole cottage style and is one of the few remaining early 19th-century wood-frame houses built during the last Spanish Period in Pensacola (1781-1821). One of the more unique features of the home is brick nogging, which was added between the wood posts to provide insulation and a surface for interior plaster to be applied.
Lear/Rocheblave House, 214 E Zaragoza St., Pensacola
Built in 1890 for John and Kate Lear, this two-story home is fashioned in the Folk
Victorian architectural style. The design of the Lear/Rocheblave house is based on a simplified Victorian plan that uses large porches, applied exterior scrollwork detailing, gabled roofs, and an irregular floor plan.
The Lears never lived in the house. In 1897, Benito and Catherine Rocheblave purchased the house, raising six children. Most of their many grandchildren also spent parts of their lives in the house.
The Lear/Rocheblave House remained a residence until the late 1980s when the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board obtained the home and renovated it. Many of the items on display were once owned by the Rocheblave family.
OTHER EXEMPLARY historic homes in Pensacola are still being used every day as residences and for other purposes across the older neighborhoods of the city. Here are some noteworthy homes visitors may want to drive by:
The Marzoni House, 714 E La Rua, Pensacola
Built in 1890, this house is a great example of a Queen Anne Style dwelling. The interior finishes and woodwork have numerous ornamental elements. Fireplaces in the home include sculpted marble brackets and keystones. The Marzoni House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
422 7th Ave N, Pensacola
Built circa 1867, this is the oldest home in the Old East Hill neighborhood. Like many of the homes in this neighborhood, this home is built in the frame “vernacular” style, meaning it was constructed with the use of local materials and knowledge, probably without the supervision of professional architects.
William and Jeannie Davidson lived in this home for 50 years. He had graduated from Harvard and moved to Pensacola to become head of the quarantine unit at Pensacola Naval Air Station. He was also a civil engineer who helped map the new streets of Pensacola.
309 6th Ave N, Pensacola
Built circa 1913, this is now known as the Punk House. The second floor was built with a sleeping porch where people could sleep and catch an evening breeze before the invention of air conditioning.
700 East Belmont, Pensacola
Constructed around 1900, this home is a mix of Folk Victorian and frame vernacular. The shutters and gingerbread in the front windows go all the way up into the ceiling to create another doorway when opened. Made with cypress wood, this was considered a honeymoon cottage, where a young couple would live for a while after marrying.
Special thanks to the UWF Historic Trust and Ross Pristera for providing information and leads for this blog, as well as Pensacola residents Blair Stephenson, Michael Ritz, Greg Miller and Lou Mitchell for their insights.