Pensacola’s Seville Square is the focal point for the city’s oldest settled neighborhood. Since the early 1700s, this mixed use district on the shore of Pensacola Bay has been home to slaves, freemen, dockworkers, mill owners, merchants, ship captains, the railroad, docks, shops, lawyers and small businesses. Through wars, hurricanes, political and economic upheaval, Seville Square and surrounding Historic Pensacola Village remain one of America’s most enduring Florida gulf shore neighborhoods.
Once more a fashionable area, the Pensacola National Register Historic District includes Historic Pensacola Village’s collection of museum houses and commercial buildings. Historic Pensacola Village is part of the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum which itself is housed in a striking 1907 Mission style building once the Pensacola City Hall. The evolution of buildings for new uses has been part of Pensacola’s fabric since the 18th century.
For a small admission fee, a visitor can follow self guided and guided walking tours — tickets are good for one week – conducted by Historic Pensacola Village. The tour highlights the history and socially mixed nature of Seville Square area housing from the working poor to the upper middle class. Shelby Clarke conducted an informative and entertaining tour.
Julee cottage, circa 1805, was the home of Julee Panton, a freewoman of color. An entrepreneur, she had several businesses including candle making. It’s generally believed she used a generous portion of her income purchasing the freedom of other slaves. The early Victorian interior of the museum house represents the decor of a comfortable working class family, post Civil War, no longer living hand to mouth.
Lavalle house, on the other hand, although built in the same year, was a rental duplex. Each side was a small two room dwelling. In an age of large families and low wages, Shelby said that perhaps up to 10 men, women and children could occupy each side. If the duplex had an attic, it could become a separate rental. Although fireplaces and some kitchen equipment are in the house, cooking took place in a separate communal cook house.
The long, soaring edifice of the 1832 Christ Church, bright white paint over it’s original bricks, served Pensacola’s influential Episcopal congregation. The church played important roles during the Civil War. Standing prominently facing Seville Square’s majestic live oak trees, the interior has a striking row of tall gleaming brass lamps running down the middle of the dark wood pews in the nave. The large tall windows must have encouraged a breeze on sultry days.
With the decline of the neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century, the Episcopal Church followed its well heeled parishioners to newly fashionable North Hills and in 1903 constructed a new Christ Church in the Mission style. Old Christ Church was deeded to the city in the 1930s, first becoming a library. Now restored, Christ Church is part of Historic Pensacola Village’s museum buildings.
In the 1870s, the neighborhood attracted entrepreneurs of the post Civil War reconstruction era building their homes close to both workers and business. The 1872 Dora house defied Victorian convention and was built in the earlier Greek Revival style. The handsome yellow pine, which gets harder with age, created a sturdy structure. Yet the high Victorian interior was the epitome of fashion. Expensive hand printed wall paper, a hanging cranberry glass hall lamp, slate fireplaces in the dining and sitting rooms all spoke of the Dora family’s social status.
The Loear/Rocheblave house, constructed in 1890, was a fine example of upper middle class high Victorian decor in a southern Queen Anne structure. From the lace woodwork on the porch to the spacious and airy interior, the house was constructed to maximize natural cooling. Fashionably decorated, the house boasts a butler’s pantry and a state of the art 1890’s kitchen complete with a built in waffle iron within the iron stove. Shelby pointed out the Sears and Roebuck mail order baby’s high chair.
Despite the neighborhood’s decline in the 20th century, it continued to be a vibrant working class community. The 1888 Barrios cottage’s interior reflects a working class family of the 1920s with wireless, Frigidaire and electric washing machine. Yet since the late 1900s, restoration has revived both residential and commercial sectors attracting a new generation of entrepreneurs. Cafes, microbreweries and professional offices dot the quiet residential neighborhood.
Dolce!, an artisan sorbet and gelato shop, next door to Pensacola Bay Brewery, occupies an 1880’s Queen Anne cottage and offers extraordinary creations. Marie Mayeur dreams up truly unique recipes such as goat cheese, cardamon & golden raisin gelato, refreshing lemon basil sorbet with a generous amount of chopped fresh herb and salted caramel gelato tasting just like the creamy candy from Flanders. Her gelatos are made small batch, flavors changing constantly, are smooth and bursting with flavor.
Seville Square and Historic Pensacola Village comprise an extraordinary collection of modest to affluent residential housing that encompass the spread of 19th century southern architecture. Culturally, it’s the heart of downtown Pensacola’s current renaissance. Street upon street of superbly crafted wooden cottages ranging from tiny shotgun houses, lacy Queen Anne, grand Victorians to early 20th century craftsman attests to a neighborhood that holds on as tenaciously as dune grass.