PORT OF PENSACOLA
The Port of Pensacola, located on Pensacola Bay has a history which dates back to 1528 when
Panfilo De Narvaez, with a fleet of crude vessels landed at Santa Rosa Island, across
Pensacola Bay from the present site of Pensacola. This was just 36 years after Columbus
landed in the Western Hemisphere. Twelve years later in 1540 Hernandex De Soto chose this
site as his base of exploratory operations in the Western Hemisphere.
King Phillip 11 of Spain dispatched an expedition of 500 soldiers and 1,000 colonists
under command Of Don Tristian De Luna . to colonize the area. Their landing here was
effected in 1559. On September 19, 1559 a month and four days after their landing a
hurricane destroyed De Lunas' fleet. The colony was abandoned in 1561. First white
settlement on North American Continent lasted 2 years.
In 1698 Don Andres D'Arriola reestablished Pensacola. The next half century saw repeated
attacks by the French and Indians until the attackers were successful in blowing up Fort
San Carlos and, burning the town of Pensacola. The Governor then rebuilt the city on
Santa Rosa Island where in 1754 the city was again destroyed by a hurricane, after which
the city was reestablished at its present site.
It was during the year 1743 that the first commercial cargo of record was exported from
this port. This cargo consisted of pine and pitch products, wood masts and spars for
sailing vessels. Tne shipment was made by the Spanish for the Havana Company.
In the late 1770's the British were exporting $500,000.00 annually, in furs traded from
the Indians, and indigo which was grown in the province of British West Florida.
The first private import-export business of record is that of the Panton Leslie Company
who had established trading posts at Pensacola and St. Marks in Florida and Mobile, Alabama.
The company started operations in the late 1770's but were not officially chartered ad
licensed to operate trading post until 1784 when they built the first commercial dock at
Pensacola and commenced their import-export trade with England.
During the following years the Panton Leslie Company continued to grow. The first
available records of that company record that in 1797 they had the following imports and exports:
Brick 10,000 Vermillion 200 PDS
Copper Kettles 155 Wine-casks 84
Limberg 354 1/2 PCS Wine-box 40
Shingles 33,000 Linsey-PCS 60
Cotton 696 PDS Logwood 24,328
Cowhides 162 Skins & Furs 213,430
The import-export trade of the Panton Leslie Company was carried on with their associates in
England, Scotland and Ireland. Although records do not indicate the weights, yellow earth
was exported in quantity to New Orleans where it was in demand for coloring houses.
From this it can be seen that the port from its earliest days has truly been an
international seaport. Exports and imports remained at a constant level for the next
20 years when brick manufactured in the Florida-South Alabama area commenced to
move through the port in great quantities in 1828 and continuing to increase until
In 1826 the first of many saw mills were built in the Pensacola area. These mills
supplied yellow pine for export in the coastal trade until 1851 when the sailing
vessel Queen of the Seas departed from Pensacola with the first foreign shipment of
lumber to leave this port.
The potential of pine lumber as an export item was quickly recognized and in 1859
there started a dock building, activity along the waterfront that saw no less than
14 docks constructed for the lumber trade.
The year 1880 saw the start of lumber exports which were to be the backbone of the local
economy for years to come. The year 1880-81 saw 529 ships calling here to export
319,807 tons of pine lumber. The steady rise of exports are indicated by the records of
the year 1883-84 when 352,418,157 feet of lumber, 944,453 barrel staves, 180,871 bales of
cotton, 134,872 tons of phosphates, 558,882 bushels of grain, 11,694 barrels of
tobacco, 18,941 barrels of flour, 105,B91 barrels of rosin and 72,947 barrels
of spirits and turpentine along with miscellaneous quantities of coal, pig iron
and shingles moved through the port in 479 vessels, of which 216 were steam and 263 were sail.
Clear was the picture the an era of the port was passing into the annals of time, and,
that the new era of steam was entering the picture. - What was to be the future of the port?
However, with the advent of the steamship the port ntinued to grow. During the year
1926 there were 208 ships and barges calling at the port to move 355,947 tons of cargo.
The dollar value of the cargo exported through the port is the best available indicators
of the ports growth for the period 1886 through 1910. The dollar value of cargo
exported in 1886 was $2,184,037.00.
The cargo dollar value continued to rise until 1910 when it reached the peak of
$22,614,672.00. During this year approximately 190,000 tons of cargo were exported.
Import tonnages for this year are not available. It is of interest to note that
during this period, in 1906, the L&N docks were reportedly the
three largest export wharves in the world.
A not to be ignored activity of the Port during the period 1910-1925 was the
commercial snapper fishing. During this period the two major fisheries here.
the E.E. Saunders Company and the Warren Fish Company estimated that their
combined catch was approximately 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 pounds of Red Snapper.
After World War I the export-import tonnages declined severely until 1943 when
the Florida State Legislature passed an act creating the Pensacola Port Authority.
The Port Authority Board of Directors consisted of 11 members appointed by the
Governor of Florida.
The major wharves at that time were private owned and operated by the L & N and
St. Louis, and San Francisco Railroads. The Port Authority purchased these docks and
hired a full time professional port director to manage them.
As cargo tonnages increased over the following years the port was plagued with a
series of fires. The first in 1948 destroyed 500 feet of the L&N docks, another fire
in 1955 destroyed the Chilean Nitrate fire, then another fire in 1958 destroyed
the Comendencia Street, or City Docks. These were followed by a fire in December
1966 which destroyed the Frisco Docks.
During the late 1950's the bulk of the cargo movement was to Cuba.
When Castro overthrew the Batista Government and announced his affiliation with
Red Russia this trade ceased in 1960. The port was now faced with the problem of
replacing the Cuban trade and to erase its image as a "Cuban Port".
The industrial expansion of American Industry to foreign countries in the mid 1960's
had its effect on the rebuilding of export trade through the port when the
Chemstrand Company began shipping materials through the port to their overseas plants.
The growth of the port has been steady and continuous. In the year 1965 this
port exported 98%, of all the creosoted poles that were exported through the
State of Florida, also over 63% Of the Peanuts which were exported through Florida
ports left through the Port of Pensacola. These are but two of the many
items which have brought the Port of Pensacola into focus as a major port of the state.
In 1966 the Port Authority embarked on an expansion program which will double the
present cargo storage space and add another ships berth to the docks.