Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
Florida history is rich with Spanish explorers, native Americans, pirates, railroad tycoons, soldiers, planters, and pioneers of all types.
The Panhandle has it's share of these as well.
For thousands of years the region was visited by both nomads and settlers and historical sites can be found from Pensacola to Tallahassee.
Spanish explorers discovered the region beginning in 1513 with Juan Ponce de Leon, who did Not find the fountain of youth, but who did find some pretty hostile South Florida natives.
Hernando de Soto came looking for gold and discovered the Apalachee, Florida's most advanced civilization and for whom the Appalachian Mountains were named. He spent the winter of 1539 in their village and evidence of his encampment was found in downtown Tallahassee. Later, Mission San Luis was established here as Spain's western capital.
In 1559, Don Tristan de Luna established the first European settlement at Pensacola, but the colony only lasted a short time before being destroyed by a hurricane. Later attempts to settle the area were made and Pensacola was ruled by Spain for some 240 years before bouncing back and forth to Britain, France, back to Spain, and to the newly created United States. It was briefly under the Confederate flag until the end of the Civil War allowed the stars and stripes to fly permanently.
Today the “City of Five Flags” is a vibrant anchor for art, attractions, dining, and shopping at the west end of the state of Florida. It is also the location of an important naval base and the National Naval Aviation Museum that is home to the Blue Angels flight demonstration team.
Some amazing archaeological finds have been unearthed in Northwest Florida. For instance, a discovery in Fort Walton Beach gave rise to the naming of the Fort Walton culture of prehistoric people. Evidence of settlements there as early as 500 BC have produced pottery and the rare Buck Mound effigy urn that dates between 600 and 900 AD (see Jean Lufkin Bouler's book Exploring Florida's Emerald Coast for an entire chapter on local archaeology).
The largest concentration in Florida of antebellum plantations (71) can be found near Tallahassee. Civil War battles are remembered and re-enacted at events and festivals and at historical sites like Fort Barrancas, Fort Pickens and Natural Bridge Battlefield. Veterans of these battles along with veterans from more recent wars are also remembered in the many monuments and memorials across the region.
African American history is immortalized at Fort Gadsden State Historic Site, and at the Constitution Convention Museum you can see where the first Florida constitution was signed in 1838. All of this is interwoven in the rich tapestry of the maritime adventures of pirates, WWII U-boats, and the fishermen who for for over two centuries have found the elements to bring home the gulf's bounty.
Northwest Florida history is also filled with characters, heroes, adventurers, and those who built towns and drove the economy. People like Apalachicola cotton traders Thomas Orman and David G. Raney, railroad magnate William Dudley Chipley, and physician Dr. John Gorrie all played significant roles in the development of the region.
You'd think that with so much Florida history there would be many tales and legends about the region and you'd be right. There are many stories of the backwoods, tales of pirates and seamen and ghost stories and tales of haunted places in Northwest Florida.
Many towns have a downtown historic district like Pensacola's Seville Square. Other towns like Milton, Apalachicola, Defuniak Springs, Quincy, and Panama City also offer historic districts where antiquing is a popular activity. In all, finding Northwest Florida history is another way to explore the many wonders of this fascinating region.