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The Old Chimney

 

Old Chimney Park History

oval-chimneyThe Old Chimney property was part of a land grant issued to Emanual Bonifay in 1813. The chimney and sawmill were built in the mid-1850 on land acquired by Henry Hyer in January of 1854 and was part of the steam power plant for the “Hyer-Knowles Factory”, a partnership of Hyer and Peter (James) Knowles. The factory, which name can be found on cargo shipping lists of the era, was in operation by 1857. The chimney was on the west end of one of the Gulf Coast’s largest sawmills shipping thousands of timber, shingles, and wood railing daily. The original bricks for the chimney were hand made by slaves in one the nearby brick factories that lined the west coast of Escambia Bay.

The Hyer-Knowles Mill had loading docks on both the old carriage road (now Scenic Highway), which connected to the north-south Spanish Trail and on Escambia Bay to the east. The chimney is now the only trace of what was the first major industrial belt on the Gulf Coast- –string antebellum wood mills, paper processing plants and brick factories. In fact, the bricks in the base of the chimney bear the mark “J Gonzalez,” showing they were produced at the local brick plant of James Gonzalez north of the site.

Braxton_Bragg-200x296In March 1862, General Braxton Bragg was evacuating the Confederate forces holding Pensacola when Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin ordered the destruction of everything that could be of use to the advancing Union forces. His instructions were to “Destroy all machinery private and public which could be useful to the enemy; especially disable the sawmills in and around the Bay, and burn the lumber”. He set March 10 as the deadline for the demolition. The Hyer-Knowles Mill (except for the brick chimney) was destroyed that night. Local legend has been that the Hyer-Knowles machinery was loaded onto barges in an attempt to save as much as possible. Confederate memos say thunderstorms and large waves swept Escambia Bay that night of March 10, 1863. The Hyer-Knowles machinery on the barges sank to the bottom of the bay. Thus the chimney serves as a physical reminder of the internal struggles of our nation during the Civil War.

On May 30, 1881, M. F. Gonzalez purchased the property where the Hyer-Knowles mill had stood and erected a sawmill and shingle mill. The Gonzalez mill incorporated and utilized the already standing chimney. A small community named Bohemia grew up around it. The community disappeared when the mill closed in the 1920’s.

chimney-drawing-twoToday, Old Chimney Park contains the approximately 50-foot high common brick chimney the remnants of the pre-Civil war era sawmill. The property is configured as a “mini” or “ribbon” park functioning as a roadside rest area with parking spaces and brick walkways. It is located on a portion of Highway 90 that is Scenic Highway in Pensacola, Florida. The highway is the first Florida State “Scenic Highway” designated on April 13, 1998 as Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway.

On March 10, 2009 an application was submitted to the State of Florida Division of Historical Resources for the consideration of the placement of Old Chimney Park on the National Register of Historic Places. On May 24, 2012 the Scenic Highway Foundation received the notification that the site had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

CAN THIS CHIMNEY BE SAVED?

At first glance, Chimney Park at the foot of Langley Avenue may look fine to you. But upon closer inspection, you will see trees(!) and vines growing out of the top. The brick is crumbling, the base of the chimney is becoming compromised, and this local landmark, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is in danger. Grant money, such as that provided by the Historical Trust, Impact 100 and others, is available for projects that a) serve a large number of people, b) increase tourism, and c) foster economic development. Scenic Highway Foundation has no means to track the number of people who actually visit the park, and this lovely spot along the bay isn’t a job creator.

And that’s where our members come in. We need the support of not only the people who live along the Scenic Hwy. corridor, but all citizens of Pensacola to shore up and make emergency repairs to the Old Chimney until we can dig up some funding to restore it. Please consider a donation to SHF in addition to your yearly membership. Please click on the Membership tab or the Donate button now to make your contribution. And we thank you!

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