The Port of Pensacola lies on the banks of Pensacola Bay off the Gulf of Mexico on the southern shores of the Florida Panhandle. About 100 kilometers southeast of the Port of Mobile, Alabama, the Port of Pensacola depends on tourism and the military for its economy. Other important industries include healthcare, high-tech, and manufacturing. In 2000, over 56 thousand people lived in the City of Pensacola, and the metropolitan area was home to more than 412 thousand.
The Port of Pensacola is home to the first United States Naval Air Station, the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, and the National Museum of Naval Aviation. The Port of Pensacola has been an important seaport since the middle 1700s, and it is northwest Florida's main deep-water port today.
In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez first landed at the barrier Santa Rosa Island, and Hernando de Soto used the same spot for his base as he explored the New World. In 1559, Don Tristan de Luna arrived with seven ships and 1557 people to establish a Spanish colony, but the new colony was abandoned two years later when a hurricane destroyed the fleet. While other explorers ventured into the area, little development took place until the late 17th Century.
In 1698, Don Andres D'Arriola established what he hoped would be a permanent settlement on Santa Rosa Island; however, the village was burned in 1719 during conflicts between the French, Spanish, and the indigenous peoples. In 1723, a Spanish trading settlement was built on the site. The first record of commercial shipping reported the export of pine and pitch and wood masts and spars in 1743. The ill-fated settlement was destroyed by a hurricane in 1753, and a new settlement called Pensacola was established on the mainland.
In 1763, the British took control of the region, and Pensacola became the capital of the colony of West Florida. During the American Revolution, it was a haven for loyalists, by Spanish forces recaptured the town in 1781. The first private commercial dock appeared in the Port of Pensacola in 1784 to support trade with England.
General Andrew Jackson took the town back in 1818 during the First Seminole War. In 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams called for the construction of forts and a Navy Yard at the Port of Pensacola, creating a quick increase in the timber trade. The first saw mill was built in 1826, and from 1828 to 1850, the export of bricks was a growing part of the Port of Pensacola's throughput. In 1851, the first shipment of lumber to a foreign port left the Port of Pensacola.
During the United States' Civil War, the Confederate Army took the Port of Pensacola and when they retreated in 1862, they burned the port facilities and other property. Trade ceased until the end of the war when the port was rebuilt. By 1870, the timber trade was busy again, and commercial fishing began to grow.
From 1875 until 1895, over 1.2 billion meters of lumber moved through the Port of Pensacola. Other exports included cotton, phosphates, barrel staves, flour, grain, tobacco, resin, shingles, turpentine, coal, and pig iron. In 1882, the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad (later called the L&N) linked the Port of Pensacola to Jacksonville, and L&N built docks and warehouses and acquired steamships to carry cargo. By the 1880s, there were 16 wharves in the Port of Pensacola, most of them privately-owned.
In 1914, the Navy yard became a Naval Air Station, and a large aviation training school was established. The Port of Pensacola's economy began to grow rapidly. Unfortunately, the Stock Market crash of 1919 and the Great Depression brought a period of stagnation to the Port of Pensacola.
World War II and the need for coal brought a rebirth of activity to the Port of Pensacola and stimulated interest in establishing a commercial waterfront. In 1942, civic leaders met to discuss ways to renew the port, and they recommended that it be put under public ownership.
In 1943, the Municipal Port Authority was created, and it bought the major wharves that had been built and owned by the railroads. Major fires in 1948, 1955, and 1958 destroyed many of the wooden wharfs. In 1958, the port authority, with help from business and civic leaders, began to redevelop the port facilities.
In 1960, when US relations with Cuba were terminated, the Port of Pensacola began to seek new opportunities for trade. In 1963, the first phase of redevelopment was completed and new port facilities became operational. In 1965, over half of Florida's peanut exports and almost all (98%) of its creosote-treated poles went through the Port of Pensacola. In 1970, the second phase of port redevelopment was completed.
In 1976, the port authority was dissolved, and the Port of Pensacola was made a department of the City of Pensacola. From 1978 until 1982, new warehouses were built, and dry and liquid bulk storage and distribution facilities began operating.
In 1997, the Port of Pensacola transformed from a publicly-operated port to a landlord-tenant port. The focus of port activity moved from agricultural goods to more diverse cargoes that include wood pulp, frozen meat and poultry, steep pipe, lumber, sulfur and asphalt, aggregate, rail cars, and lime.