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Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2012 Time: 8:15 PM
Rich with political intrigue, military strife, exotic travelers, triumph and failure, the history of Pensacola Beach and Santa Rosa Island is takes a fascinating look at the history of the nation itself, starting with the notoriously ill-fated expedition of the feisty Spanish explorer Tristan de Luna, who created the first Spanish settlement in North America at in Pensacola in 1559, and continues right up into the present day.
Prior to his de Luna’s arrival, little is known about the area’s early inhabitants. Archaeologists have discovered four kinds of prehistoric sites since the 1950s four kinds of prehistoric sites: the pyramidal mounds, burial mounds, cemeteries, and coastal shell middens. By the time of Spanish occupation, Indians known as the Lower Creek populated the Gulf Coast, the most famous of these being the charismatic chief who took on the name of Alexander McGillivray and became one of the most trusted allies of the Spanish, against the British and the French colonists.
Florida acquired its name when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, attempting to reach the shores of Pensacola, arrived at St. Augustine beach instead. The first European to arrive in the area, he promptly named the whole area “La Florida,” meaning “flowery place.” In 1539, hearing tales of gold and silver, another great Spaniard arrived to win acclaim and wealth, the legendary Hernando de Soto, who traveled for four years through much of what is present day Florida, into the Southeast, parts of the Midwest, and into the West. One of the commanders he left in charge was Francisco Maldonado, who took six vessels to explore the north Gulf coastline. In 1540, Maldonado dropped anchor in a bay he named "Ochuse,” now known as Pensacola Bay.
The Spanish colonists however did not rest on their laurels but got involved in various intrigues and conflicts with arriving French explorers, and numerous wars such as the Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720), Seven Years War (1754-1763), and ultimately, the American Revolution (1776-1781.). One of the great battles of the Revolutionary War was fought on Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola, the Battle of Pensacola Bay, where General Andrew Jackson successfully led American settlers to victory against the British and French colonists, and triumphantly established Pensacola as a colony of the new nation.
Pensacola remained in peace for another half a century, until she became embroiled reluctantly in skirmishes at Fort Pickens during the Civil War. During heavy fighting between Union and Confederate soldiers, the whole town was razed to the ground. It would take Pensacola another fifty years to regain its peace and natural splendor.
In the 1930s, after various sales and trades, the Santa Rosa Island Authority was created, advertising nation-wide that "tax free" lots were available on 99-year leases, and even to giving some of them were given away among as door prizes as an incentive, in order to boost the economy in the area. Surprisingly, it the scheme worked, and and slowly the Pensacola region began to grow grewslowly in population, along with . As the abundance of visitors that flocked to the area as word spread ofvisitors discovered the the miles of beautiful untouchedbeautiful “sun-kissed” beaches, emerald green waters, and countless luxury resorts and hotels that cropped up here. and dDevelopment by the mid 1950’s was enormous and unchecked, as Pensacola became a “hot item” for real estate developers, gaining the reputation of the nation’s “new vacation paradise.”
Under the guiding influence of the popular professor Dr. James P. Morgan, a visionary environmentalist, preservation efforts were made to keep the wild lands and wetlands around Pensacola Beach intact and to establish a policy of healthy sustainable growth, a policy still in effect today.
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