Long before the days when everyone had a camera in their pocket, before the era of selfies and Snapchat, those on vacation shared their experiences a little differently.
For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, postcards were the de facto way to share a picture and short message with friends and family. Billion of postcards were produced and sold, often available for a penny apiece, postage included.
Here are 15 beautiful vintage postcards from Pensacola’s past:
With vibrant color illustrations printed on linen paper, the postcards of the Boston-based Tichnor Brothers Inc. represent some of the best examples of 20th century postcard art. The Tichnor Brothers Collection at the Boston Public Library is home to more than 25,000 of the company’s postcards, which feature destinations across the United States, including Pensacola.
This bird’s eye view over Plaza Ferdinand VII looks out at the then City Hall (now the T.T. Wentworth Florida State Museum) and the Escambia County Court of Record Building (now the Pensacola Cultural Center), built in 1908 and 1911 respectively. Behind the buildings, smokestacks and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad docks (now the Port of Pensacola) line the city’s waterfront.
The sugar-white sands of Pensacola Beach have been one of the city’s premier attractions for hundreds of years. In 1931, the first set of bridges were built over Pensacola Bay and Santa Rosa Sound, eliminating the need for a boat trip to the barrier island. At the same time, the Pensacola Beach Casino was built, providing visitors with a restaurant, dance hall, bath houses, shops, and other amenities.
As the postcard says, the first bridge over Pensacola Bay cost $2.5 million (about $39.5 million in today’s dollars). Launched with a toll, the bridge was renamed in 1948 in honor of Pensacolian Thomas A. Johnson, who eliminated the toll while serving as Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation in the 1940s. After a new, wider bridge was built in 1962, the original two-land bridge was converted into a fishing pier, enjoyed by Pensacolians until being heavily damaged in 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.
Built in 1884 and 1909 respectively, St. Michael’s Church and the San Carlos Hotel were two of Pensacola’s most prominent landmarks for much of the 20th century. Sadly, only St. Michael’s — now a basilica — remains. The San Carlos, long called the “Grey Lady of Palafox,” closed in 1982 amid competition from newer hotels. Allowed to deteriorate for more than a decade, the hotel was demolished in 1993 over the objections of preservationists.
Looking up North Palafox Street from Garden Street, this postcard features the Rex Theatre and Rhodes Building, two historic and still-standing structures. The wide median on Palafox, once used for streetcar tracks, was landscaped after the city’s streetcar system was shuttered in 1932. Today, the median is used for the weekly Palafox Market arts and farmers market.
In the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, Pensacola was known worldwide for its red snapper industry. Rhode Island native E.E. Saunders established himself as the region’s largest dealer of red snapper, operating a fleet of fishing boats from his headquarters at the foot of South Palafox Street. By the mid-1900s, though, the gulf’s red snapper supply had been overfished, and the industry dried up.
In another early view from Casino Beach, umbrellas line the boardwalk and a stage has been set up on the sand for a concert. Under construction in this view, the Pensacola Beach Pier would soon span 1,200 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, becoming one of the longest piers on the Gulf Coast. The entire Casino complex cost around $150,000 to build, around $2.3 million in today’s dollars.
Lit on January 1, 1859, the Pensacola Lighthouse has been an icon for more than a century and a half. Pensacola Bay’s third lighthouse, the 150-foot tower replaced a smaller 40-foot beacon, which itself replaced the lightship Aurora Borealis, which served as the bay’s first beacon from 1823 to 1825. Still standing, the lighthouse and historic keeper’s quarters, built around 1890, were both restored in recent years.
Opened in 1915, Pensacola Hospital was the area’s first permanent, modern hospital. Operated by the Catholic Daughters of Charity, the hospital was later renamed Sacred Heart Hospital, and in 1965, the hospital moved to a new campus on North 9th Avenue, where it still operates. Located on 12th Avenue in Pensacola’s historic East Hill neighborhood, the building and its Gothic Revival architecture live on as “Tower East,” home to popular restaurants, shops, and offices.
Long renowned for its beautiful views, Pensacola’s Scenic Highway sits atop a tall bluff overlooking Escambia Bay. Before the development of Interstate 10, Scenic Highway was Pensacola’s main connection to points east, including the Santa Rosa communities of Pace, Milton, Bagdad, and beyond. Paved in 1929, the highway is one of Florida’s 24 state-designated scenic byways.
The hill at the top of Palafox Street, named Gage Hill by the British, has long played a central role in Pensacola’s history. With commanding views of downtown and the bay, the hill was home over the years to both Spanish and British fortifications before becoming North Hill, a residential district home to some of the city’s most opulent homes. Originally called Florida Square, the city square which replaced those old forts was renamed for Confederate general Robert E. Lee in 1889. Two years later, a monument to the Confederate dead was erected in the park.
By the mid-1930s, with their existing courthouses no longer meeting their respective needs, Escambia County and the federal government decided to do a land swap. County officials took over the 1885 U.S. Custom House and Courthouse on South Palafox Street, while the feds took over the county courthouse built the same year on North Palafox Street. Unable to adapt the old Victorian county courthouse, the federal government demolished it in 1938 and replaced it with a new Spanish Colonial Revival style courthouse, now named the Winston E. Arnow U.S. Courthouse.
Located on the Pensacola side of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, Wayside Park is home to Pensacola’s visitor information and welcome center. With picnic pavilions, boat ramps, and access to the Pensacola Bay fishing bridge, the park has been a popular recreational destination for decades.
Largely undeveloped before the construction of the first bridges to the island in 1931, Pensacola Beach and Santa Rosa Island are still less developed than many other Florida beaches due to the island’s ownership by the federal government. Despite ownership being transferred to Escambia County in the 1940s, the agreement bars the county from selling beach property, resulting in a complicated system of 99-year leases for development. The western end of the island has been preserved as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.