Located in Pensacola, Florida, Historic Pensacola is an 8.5-acre museum complex comprised of 28 museums and historical buildings preserving the heritage of America’s first multi-year settlement.
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Spanish explorer Tristan de Luna’s Pensacola Bay settlement was the first multi-year European settlement established in what is now the contiguous United States, founded in 1559. Named after the indigenous Panzacola tribe, the settlement was destroyed by a hurricane after only two years, but the Pensacola area continued to be an important colonial territory after the 1698 founding of the modern city.
The area’s roots as a historic district date back to the 1960s, with the 1967 establishment of the Pensacola Historic Preservation and Restoration Commission bolstering public support for preservation of Florida history. In 1970, the Preservation Board was integrated into the Florida Department of State, and in 2001, care of the Board’s collections and historic buildings was transferred to the University of West Florida. Currently, the Historic Pensacola area is managed by the University of West Florida Historic Trust, which also manages the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site in Milton.
Facilities and Permanent Exhibits
11 of the historic district’s 28 properties are open to the public, including four museums, a multicultural center, and a number of restored historic houses and community buildings. Admission to the district includes a weeklong pass to the complex, as well as a guided tour of several historic sites.
The T. T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum is the complex’s premier museum, housed inside the former Pensacola City Hall building. It is dedicated to preserving the social and archaeological story of the Pensacola region through permanent collections and a number of rotating special exhibits. Two permanent exhibits are featured, the City of Five Flags, which details thousands of years of Pensacola Bay settlements from indigenous tribes through Spanish and British colonial rule, and Trader Jon’s, commemorating the eccentric former local bar, a popular tourist destination. A gallery dedicated to the museum’s 10,000-item Wentworth Collection houses a collection of art, artifacts, and archival material pertaining to the area’s history.
The complex also features the Pensacola Children’s Museum, a two-story museum featuring exhibits on colonial Pensacola life, as well as the area’s military, maritime, and indigenous history. A Museum of Commerce is housed inside a turn-of-the-century warehouse, featuring a reconstructed 1890s-era streetscape, and a Museum of Industry details the local history of trades such as lumbering, brick-making, railroading, and commercial fishing. A multicultural center, Voices of Pensacola, was opened in 2014, highlighting the area’s cultural groups through oral and video history projects.
Also included as part of the self-guided tour is the McMillan House, which has been converted into the Appleyard Storytelling Cottage, an exhibition space for Pensacola storyteller John Appleyard. 51 recorded stories about prominent historical citizens and events are available for viewing, from 15-minute episodes to 90-minute presentations. Visitors can explore two historic houses on the tour, the Manuel Barrios Cottage, a Pyramidal-roof Gulf Coast cottage from 1888, and the Julee Cottage, built around 1805. A Fountain Park dating to the late 1800s is part of the district’s public space, along with a Colonial Archaeological Trail presented by the UWF Historic Trust.
Guided tours of the district’s historic buildings are available periodically throughout the week, lasting one to five hours. Guests can tour several facilities, including three historic homes, the 1805 Lavalle House, the 1871 Dorr House, and the 1890 Lear-Rocheblave House, as well as the Old Christ Church, one of the oldest church buildings in the state. A museum store is housed inside the Tivoli High House, the 1805 former home to a tavern and boarding and gaming house, and an additional facility, the 1825 Barkley House, accommodates special events and outdoor weddings.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The Hilton-Green Research Room, located on the second floor of the Voices of Pensacola museum, is an archival facility available to the public for research. It maintains a collection of more than 100,000 historic images of Pensacola spanning centuries of the city’s history, as well as extensive holdings of public records, newspapers, and other city and resident documents. The research room’s Lelia Abercrombie Historical Reference Library also holds many out-of-print reference works about the history of Northwest Florida.
Daily programming at the complex seeks to immerse visitors in the culture of colonial Pensacola. The Living History series showcases popular crafting and leisure activities of the 19th century at various locations throughout the complex, with pop-up demonstrations on cooking, butter churning, candle making, gardening, and more. The Dorr House also offers a seasonal Victorian tea, educating visitors on the customs and etiquette of Victorian society.
120 Church Street, Pensacola, FL 32502, Phone: 850-595-5985