Shortly after moving back to Pensacola I began walking through the Pensacola Historic District a few times a week. Exercise was my excuse, but mainly I do it because I’m fascinated by the architecture and surroundings. Shade is supplied by a canopy of sprawling live oaks. The landscape is dotted with stately old magnolias, Seville orange trees (those bitter oranges brought here by the Spanish), and cabbage palms mixed with overgrown gangly azaleas in reds & bright pinks. Bees buzz through flowering vines draped across rickety pickets, alongside meandering butterflies and past the occasional cat lolling on a front porch… nothing like the typical manicured neighborhoods I’d become accustomed to, & way more interesting. History is apparent everywhere – in the landscape and the architecture.
Developing over a 200 year period, this neighborhood features a diverse collection of period structures – from grand homes built for the Who’s Who of the time, to tiny Creole Cottages and shotgun houses built as rentals for the working class. The details fascinate me… beautifully patinated raw wood fences, delicate jigsaw appliqué, turned balusters, and decorative brackets…I’m most impressed by the simplest cottages trimmed with all the details. I love that someone cared for their tiny home so much to embellish it that way.
It’s quiet here. Even though all manner of construction (and a bit of destruction) is happening just blocks away. The cats don’t care (nor the birds or butterflies). The pace here is slow and lazy, contemplative and inspirational.
Walk with me for just a block…notice a few highlights: starting in Seville Square (called “the Green” in that era), look west to see Old Christ Church, circa 1832, one of the oldest buildings of worship left standing in Florida. Next door is a beautiful example of post civil war Greek Revival architecture, circa 1871. This home was built for the family of Clara Barkley Dorr (daughter of Charles Barkley) after the death of her husband, a local lumber executive. Look north to see some of the larger homes in the district, most built in the mid 19th century – one of them a Baptist Parsonage, another belonging to William Anderson who served as mayor in 1893; and the Steamboat House, circa 1857, a unique home considered an excellent example of the “Steamboat Gothic” style of architecture.
Turn right onto Government street… looking to the right you’ll see the pink restaurant now called Dharma Blue, circa 1880. A few homes down on the left is St. Michael’s Creole Benevolent House, circa 1895, which served as a meeting hall for Pensacola Creoles of Spanish-Negro descent. Many of the modest homes on this end of Government belonged to Creoles who were predominately barbers and musicians, one of them housing the nephew of Salvador Pons, who was mayor in 1874. Looking again to the right, notice a very simple tin-roofed home known as Susannah’s Cottage, circa 1800. On the 1820 census she was listed as simply “Ma Susana, age 40, single negro washer woman”.
Turning right onto South Florida Blanca, you’ll notice two very similar homes side by side. Sporting beautifuly weathered unpainted wood siding, they were built for brothers who were sea captains, one of whom died after being swept off his ship in a storm (yes, there are ghost stories about that! I’ve heard it referred to as “the Boo Radley”) At the end of Florida Blanca, with a great view of the bay sits the Barkley House, circa 1812. One of the most notable homes of the time, the Barkley House was a hub of social and political activity in that era, as it’s owners played host to Pensacola’s most prominent citizens. I could go on, but you get the picture (love those photography puns!) These details are tiny fragments of the history contained in the 36 blocks that make up the Pensacola Historic District.
This neighborhood represents the aesthetic and cultural essence of Pensacola. It’s as much of an attraction as the T. T. Wentworth Museum or the Pensacola Museum of Art. It’s a living, breathing museum. Something we should nurture, be proud of, and share with visitors. So check it out – take a walk sometime…
For more information about Cottage Charm in Historic Seville go to: PensacolaTreasures.com and PensacolaTreasures1821 on Instagram
Sharon can be contacted at PensacolaTreasures@gmail.com