Donate

Monthly Archives: March 2013

You Can Go Home Again

By Charlie Davis

In deference to Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again. Today, my home is in Gulf Breeze, but for almost thirty years, East Pensacola Heights was home for me, my parents and my five brothers and one sister. We often hear that “home is where the heart is, “and I know that is true, but part of my heart is still in the “Heights.”

Recently, my wife, Sandra, and I were invited back to East Pensacola Heights for a picnic. The invitation, signed by Jean Wallace, was on a small post-a-note attached to a great little newsletter published by the East Pensacola Heights Association. The message was, “come to our picnic and see some of your old neighbors.”

The newsletter contained a notice about the picnic, showing the address to be 720 Bayou Boulevard. This area was part of my paper route, which seems like fifty years ago…what the heck; it was more than fifty years ago. Obviously I couldn’t remember which house was number 720, so I wondered if it was the old Broome family home next door, or the old Zur Lenden house down the hill on the bayou, or the Black family home at the curve, from whom “Black’s Wharf,” our old “Swimming Hole” got it’s name. It was neither. It was the home on Hyer’s Point, now owned by Edwin and Jean Wallace, which is probably the most beautiful piece of real estate in Northwest Florida.

Hyer’s Point was our jumping off point when we swam across the bayou to Bayview Park and we could always count on catching a lot of crabs between Hyer’s Point and Zur Lenden’s dock. But, what I really remember most about Hyer’s Point was Mrs. Hyer. Mrs. J. Whiting Hyer, that is. She was a very nice lady, of course, and the first thing you would notice about her, other than a nice friendly smile, was that she always wore men’s pants. She probably wouldn’t look unusual today in a pair of men’s khaki pants, because women now wear just about anything, and it was long before the Bermuda Shorts craze hit this country. Some women did wear slacks back then, styled to fit the female body, but Mrs. Hyer seemed to be content with a pair of Mr. Hyer’s pants, and a large belt to hold them up.

Another interesting thing about Mrs. Hyer was that she obviously loved animals, because she had a lot of them, especially the feathered kind. She had the usual number of ducks and chickens, but what interested us kids most was her large flock of white geese, and an equally large, if not larger, flock of guinea fowl. If you can imagine the noise a flock, or about two dozen geese can make, you should hear the noise from a large flock of guinea fowls. It was always interesting to hear the noise coming through the woods from Hyer’s Point when the geese and guinea fowl were trying to outdo each other. They flew all over the neighborhood, and occasionally Mrs. Hyer would round them up and herd them home like sheep.

When I was about eight or nine years old, the geese were in our yard and Mrs. Hyer, with stick in hand, was trying to shoo them back across Bayou Boulevard into their large wooded property. I volunteered to help her catch a recalcitrant old gander which just refused to go home with the others. I was the official “chicken-neck-ringer at our house, so with my experience, I figured it wouldn’t be much difference in catching geese and catching chickens. I was unaware that a gander, especially an old, large one has a bony or calcified knot about the size of a golf ball on each wing. Plus, unlike chickens, a goose can bite the heck out of you. It took that old gander about ten seconds to bloody my nose and scratch me all over. Mrs. Hyer was very concerned and sympathetic, but I bet she had a good laugh when she got home.

By the way, the picnic was great, but I knew only three of the people there, and only one of them lived in the Heights when I did. Although the rest of the people at the picnic were strangers to me, their friendliness and their relationship with each other was just like it was years ago when we had Easter egg hunts at Suter School, political rallies, fish frys and many other events at the Community House. It’s obvious that the friendly ways of the people in East Pensacola Heights never change, even though the residents come and go.

 

CHARLIE DAVIS is a graduate of Florida State University, with a degree in Insurance and Real Estate, and is retired from careers in Insurance, Real
Estate and Residential Construction.  He is the father of four children and has nine grandchildren.  He and his wife live in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

East Pensacola Heights

By Charlie Davis

There could not have been a better community to grow up in than East Pensacola Heights. The “Heights,” as the natives called it, is a peninsula, surrounded by Pensacola Bay to the south, Escambia Bay to the east, and Bayou Texar to the west. It’s not clear as to who were the first families to live in the “Heights,” but many agree they would include such family names as, Brosnaham, Hyers, Joseph, Merritt, McCaskill, Thompson, Briggs and Walker. Many of the families that lived there back when only a few roads were paved are still there, and most of them are in the same houses. Many of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have settled in the “Heights” with their own families. East Pensacola Heights has really grown, like most areas, and the newer residents are just as proud of the “Heights” as are the older residents.

East Pensacola Heights was a fisherman’s paradise, and most of the natives reached proficiency with a castnet, a gig and a scoop net at an early age. Throwing a castnet correctly was an art, acquired only after weeks, and sometimes months, of practice. The guys judged each other on how well they could spread their net. Most guys wouldn’t admit it then, and probably not even today, that some gals could throw a castnet just as well as they could.

The center of daily activity was around Pfeiffer’s, Thompson’s and Shedd’s grocery stores, and Russell’s Drug Store. By the time Bob Joseph opened Joseph’s IGA, all the smaller stores had disappeared. One central gathering spot was the Community House, which was built by the men who lived in the Heights. Over the years, there were all types of meetings and functions that took place at the Community House. To assure success at the fund raisers, such as the school plays from A. K. Suter School, and political rallies, many of the ladies served their favorite seafood recipes, which always drew a crowd. A popular location for the fishermen was Walker’s Boathouse, now the site of the Mariner Oyster Barn Restaurant. The boathouse was built in the early 1900s by Mr. Willie Walker, patriarch of a large family of commercial fishermen, prominent in the seafood industry throughout northwest Florida and south Alabama. Walker’s Boathouse was a favorite hangout for the kids, who often earned pocket change by bailing out the boats and “heading” shrimp.

For the kids, living in East Pensacola Heights meant spending the summers either in or on Bayou Texar. The “ole swimming hole” for most of them was Black’s Wharf, but they often swam across the bayou to Bayview Park, where there was always a large crowd. On Saturday nights, large groups of kids, and some adults, walked across the bridge and along the shore of the bayou to Bayview Park to watch the free outdoor movies provided by the City of Pensacola. The older kids had access to boats and kayaks, and it was a familiar sight to see a skiff full of kids rowing across the bayou to Bayview Park or up the bayou to the 12th Avenue Bridge. All kayaks in those days were home made.

In the days of unpaved streets, many families owned horses, cows and chickens. It was like living in the country, not far from town. In the 1940s, the Buchanan and Bonifay families each had stables and folks came from all over to rent their horses. There were many popular businesses in the Heights, such as Philpots Cottages, Chicken in the Rough, Jerry’s Bar B. Q., the Scenic Terrace, Nob Hill, Brooks Taylor’s Service Station, and many others. They have all disappeared, except Jerry’s Bar B. Q. and it’s still a favorite place for folks from miles around.

Today, East Pensacola Heights is a part of the City of Pensacola, and all the streets were paved years ago. Annie K. Suter School is still the center of education, and all the woods, such as “Monkey’s Camp” and “The Gulley’s are now solid subdivisions. It’s where the best restaurants are located, real estate values have soared, and most former residents wished they still lived there.

Written by: Charlie Davis

For: Publication, The Heritage Book of Escambia County, Florida

CHARLIE DAVIS is a graduate of Florida State University, with a degree in
Insurance and Real Estate, and is retired from careers in Insurance, Real
Estate and Residential Construction.  He is the father of four children and
has nine grandchildren.  He and his wife live in Gulf Breeze, Florida.