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Mapping Pensacola's History

The Pensacola Museum of History has reached into its archive to exhibit the changing ways Pensacola has been mapped over the centuries.

“We pulled quite a few maps from our archive collection which normally don’t get to be displayed," said Jessie Cragg, the curator of exhibits with the University of West Florida Historic Trust.

As we walked around the new exhibit called “Visualized Landscapes: A Selection of Northwest Florida Maps” at the Pensacola Museum of History, Cragg said the maps can tell a fascinating story about the history of Pensacola.

“When you look at the maps you can realize how Pensacola started forming and how we’ve made Pensacola what it is today. You can see where people started navigating up the rivers and expanding the maps. You can see where people started moving, where they lived, the resources they were close to, and it really explains how Pensacola is laid out in the modern-day.”

The maps have all been reframed and are displayed on the second floor of the museum. Before you enter the room, you are greeted by a hand-painted mural.

“This is the outline of the British fort that was here in the 1770s. It was built on top of where the old Spanish fort was. When the British came over and they took over the Northwest Florida region, they started building up fortresses, and this is right where downtown is today.”

In fact, the location of the museum itself is on that mural, which Cragg painted herself. “It took me two days. But I projected the map up there, I traced it, and then I painted it in. So it’s all hand-painted.”

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media

Some of the historic maps were actually found to be copies, but are still on display to show the changing geography of the city. Cragg described one hand-drawn map in the exhibit that goes back a few centuries. “This map was drawn in 1822 and it’s a copy of a 1764 map. But the map itself is from 1822 and it’s the oldest one we have in the collection. It’s got some rough edges, but the main part is there and it shows basically what Pensacola looks like today. They’ve got the public square. This is where that fort that’s (pictured) on the outside wall, it would have been right here where these dotted lines are. George Street is now Palafox Street, the same street. So it shows the layout of Pensacola.

All the maps on display, from that old 1822 map to a Coast Guard map from the 1990s are part of the historic trust’s archival collection. Cragg says they have plans for them long after this exhibit comes down. “What we’re going to do in terms of preserving them is we’re going to get high-resolution scans of them. Once we do that, those scans will actually be available for purchase. So if any visitors come in here and they really love the look of one of the maps, we can facilitate that and get them a copy.”

The exhibit “Visualized Landscapes: A Selection of Northwest Florida Maps” will be on display at the Pensacola Museum of History through August.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.