Port History

The Port of Pensacola – A Historic Past, A Great Future

In 1943, the Florida Legislature passed enabling acts creating the Pensacola Port Authority, with limited powers, but with a goal of revitalizing a seaport which had enjoyed prosperity through World War I. The Authority struggled and made little progress until the mid-1950′s when the Louisville and Nashville, and the St. Louis and San Francisco railroads deeded local docks and service facilities to the authority. In the summer of 1957, a dozen Authority members embarked on an ambitious program which resulted in new cargoes, new revenues and new ideas. One of the concepts, considered at that time, was creation of a modern seaport terminal superimposed over the 70 year old twindock L&N facility.

An unexplained fire destroyed those old wooden piers before financing could be planned for replacements, but in 1959 the business community joined with the City Council and the Authority to present a united front for the redevelopment of port facilities. Necessary funding was obtained, and in 1963 Phase I of the “new port” became operational. From the beginning, it was a success. Unfortunately, however, the historic but aging Frisco dock also burned shortly thereafter; forcing faster-than-anticipated additional new terminal construction. Phase II of the modern Pensacola Marine Terminal came on stream in August, 1970.

From that date forward the port has enjoyed increasing success and recognition as one of the regions most important economic resources. With dynamic cargo mixes changing with the times, naval stores, building materials, transmission poles and machinery gave way to industrial chemicals, fuel oil, sulfur, bagged food and metal products. In 1978, a third major warehouse was constructed, and between 1979-1982 additional warehousing was completed and improved handling equipment was acquired. Dry and liquid bulk storage and distribution facilities provided enhanced cargo handling capabilities.

For a time, Pensacola drew a lion’s share of the nation’s export bagged food, almost literally “selling out” the port’s terminal capacity. But, with the dynamic transportation environment, changing patterns of trade, intense competition and deregulation, Pensacola embarked on a new cargo diversification strategy which has been markedly successful. Products such as cast iron pipe, electrodes, non-ferrous metal scrap, aluminum ingots, wood pulp, transmission poles, military equipment, lumber and plywood and other general cargo began moving in and out of Pensacola. Additional cargo handling equipment and personnel have enabled the port to become even more productive as a conduit for commerce in international trade. Stevedoring and steamship agency services are competent and productive, transportation and distribution options have increased many fold and the strength of the servicing railroads now provide shippers with profitable opportunities for rapid, cost controlled service via Pensacola.
Port Timeline

1528 – First landing at Santa Rosa Island by Panfilo De Narvaez.
1540 – Hernando de Soto chose the same site to use as a base for explorations in the New World.
1559 – Don Tristan de Luna arrives with 7 ships and 1,557 soldiers and civilians in order to establish a permanent colony for Spain in the New World. Abandoned in 1561 after a hurricane destroyed his fleet and many of his supplies. Other explorers followed, but other geographic interests by the British and French and the disaster of the Spanish Armada in 1588 drew interest elsewhere.
1698 – Don Andres D’Arriola resettled at Santa Rosa Island as a permanent colony. Original name was Santa Maria de Galve. There was constant turmoil between French and Spanish and the Indians, and the settlement was burned in 1719, Spain defeated.
1723 – Spanish reestablished a trading settlement in the same location.
1743 – First record of commercial exported cargo out of the port consisting of pine and pitch products, wood masts and spars for sailing vessels.
1753 – Settlement on Santa Rosa Island destroyed by hurricane.
1754 – Settlement reestablished as Pensacola on the present site on the mainland, the port was established and trade commenced.
1763 – Pensacola ceded to the British.
1784 – First private commercial dock built and commenced import-export trade with England.
1821 – Secretary of State John Quincy Adams ordered the building of the forts and Navy Yard at Pensacola. Caused huge upswing in timber trade.
1826 – First saw mill built in Pensacola area.
1828-50 – Brick exports increased.
1851 – First foreign shipment of lumber to leave the port.
1861 – Confederate Army seized Pensacola and its resources. When they retreated, the Confederates burned and destroyed port facilities and other industrial properties. Trade ceased. After the war, the city and the port were rebuilt.
1870 – Resurgence of timber trade.
1875-95 – 4,168,319,000 feet of lumber was carried through the Port of Pensacola with a value of approximately $50 million. Other significant exports were barrel staves, cotton, phosphates, grain, tobacco, flour, resin, and turpentine, as well as coal, pig iron and shingles.
1882 – Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad (later L&N) constructed a link to Jacksonville. Later, L&N acquired rights to build docks and warehouses, and to purchase steamships to handle cargo. Pensacola’s population was 13,000.
1880s – There were 16 wharves over 3 miles from Bayou Texar to Bayou Chico, primarily privately owned.
1929 – Stock Market crash and beginning of the Great Depression. The port languished.
1941 – World War II. Need for coal for allied forces caused new activity for Port of Pensacola. Also the beginning of new interest in waterfront potential.
1942 – Roundtable established to explore ways to revitalize the Port. Representatives from Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Chamber of Commerce and others led by Calvin Todd, a wholesale grocer, recommended the port be put under public ownership.
1943 – Municipal Port Authority was established and purchased the major wharves originally owned by L&N and St. Louis, and San Francisco RR’s. Full time port director hired.
1948 – Fire destroyed 500 feet of L&N docks.
1955 – Second fire swept Muscogee wharf ending coal shipments.
1958 – Fire destroyed Commendencia Street/City docks.
1958 – Businesses, City Council, and Authority joined forces to redevelop port facilities.
1960 – Trade broke off with Cuba (during 1950′s Cuba was major destination of cargo through Port of Pensacola). Port began looking for new trade opportunities.
1963 – Phase I of the new Port facilities operational and successful.
1965 – 98% of all creosote-treated poles were exported through Florida ports, 63% of Florida’s exported peanuts were shipped through Port of Pensacola.
1966 – Fire destroyed Frisco Docks; building of new terminal warehouses planned.
1970 – Phase II of new Port facilities established.
1976 – Port Authority disestablished and Port of Pensacola made a department of the City of Pensacola by ordinance # 49-76.
1978-82 – Additional warehouses built; dry and liquid bulk storage and distribution facilities enhanced cargo handling capabilities.
1997 – Port operations switched from operating port to landlord/tenant port. Focus switched from agricultural bagged goods to other diverse cargos such as wood pulp, frozen meat and poultry products, sulphur and asphalt, steel pipe, aggregate, lumber, railcars and bulk lime.
2009 – Juan Sebastian de Elcano, the world’s third largest tall ship, visited the Port of Pensacola June 3 – 9 to help celebrate Pensacola’s 450 anniversary.