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Gull Point, The Pensacola Tar & Turpentine Company, and the Wernicke Family – Part 1

Gull Point, The Pensacola Tar & Turpentine Company, and the Wernicke Family – Part 1

This Oral History was presented January 30, 2012 at the Tryon Library on Langley Ave. by Michael Wernicke.


Mariana Bonifay house built on Gull Point in the early part of 1800.

Mariana Bonifay house built on Gull Point in the early part of 1800.

Thank you for inviting me here to talk about Gull Point, the Pensacola Tar & Turpentine Company, and the Wernicke family’s part in that. I think I’d better start saying that I am not a historian, not even an amateur historian, I am just relying on the writings of others, especially family documents that were put together by my Aunt Julia Wernicke and others. I know that some of you are very good historians, so I beg your indulgence if in spite of the  of the good assistance from others, I get something wrong!

I’m going to start out by describing Gull Point physically, then talk a little about its early history. After that I’ll  talk about Pensacola Tar and Turpentine Company, then my great-grandfather’s role in all this, and finally some  some personal memories.


Physical Description

Tonight I’m going to be talking about Gull Point, specifically the 25 or 30 acre area between Scenic Highway  and Escambia Bay, just beyond where Creighton Road dead-ends into Scenic Highway. It’s roughly triangular  in shape, ending in a sharp point of land img243projecting eastward into the bay, which is Gull Point itself.   The point actually continues underwater as a sand bar for quite a distance into the bay, and there is a navigational light marking the end of the point and the edge of the shipping channel up the Escambia River. The point itself is  known as “Devil’s Point” on nautical charts, presumably because of the number of ships that came to grief on the sandbar. But the point is frequently covered with seabirds, including lots of gulls, and over time the larger area has become known as Gull Point. North of the point and sandbar, the water gets deep pretty quickly, and there is  a steady south-eastward current which runs close to the land and sweeps out into the bay. South of the point,  the water is very shallow a long way out. My father used to tell me that if there were no water in the bay, it  would look like nothing so much as a very flat, very large open field.

img248There is a railroad running through Gull Point, more or less parallel to Scenic Highway. When I was a boy it  was the Louisville & Nashville, but now it is owned by CSX. Personally, I think the older name was more  romantic! The topography of the land slopes very gently from the railroad right-of-way, which is about 22 feet  above mean sea level, down to the shoreline. There is a row of six houses close to the shore on the south side  of the point, and the elevation of the land at the row of houses is about six or seven feet above sea level. Most  of the site is heavily wooded, largely with live oaks.


Read part 2 of this 4 part series.

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.

History Surrounds Gull Point – Pensacola Florida

By Alice Crann
Staff Reporter
Pensacola New Journal

Gull Point may be one of Pensacola’s smallest neighborhoods, consisting of six families, but history shows this area was once a very prolific and prominent region of northwest Florida.

The tract of land known as Gull Pint, previously known as Punta del Diablo or Devil’s Point, is located about seven miles northeast of downtown Pensacola on the Escambia Bay.

According to Lee Sutton, historical researcher and clerk of the circuit court, Mariana Bonifay received the original Spanish land grant at Gull Point as a gratuity from the Spanish king.  She was one of the first business women of Pensacola from 1790 until her death in 1829.  Bonifay, who was a building-contractor and involved in the brickyard business, was responsible for many of Pensacola first buildings built during the Spanish era.

Manual Bonifay, one of Bonifay’s 14 children, inherited her industriousness and became her business manager. Alongside his involvement in his mother’s various projects, he planted orange groves in different sections on the 251 acres of Gull Point.

Knowing his mother never wrote a will dividing the land among her children and realizing the complications that might arise at the time of his mother’s death, Manuel was concerned about getting the share of land where the orange trees were planted.  The orange groves were quite a family business issue before Manuel died in 1827.

Because Bonifay never went through the proper legal channels stating how she wanted the Gull Point property divided among her family after her death, the courts sold portions of the 251 acres of Gull Point to different people.  On Dec.31,1830 portions of Gull Point were sold to Juan de la Rua, who purchased three acres before Bonifay’s death and to Moses G. Yniestra.

Due to the large size of the Bonifay family and all the different people involved, the Bonifay land settlement was known as the Mariana and Manual Bonifay settlement.  Nearly 100 years passed before the courts completely settled the estate.

During the year of 1822 while Juan de la Rua was mayor and living on Gull Point, Pensacola was chosen as the site for the first session of legislature.  A local legend says because of the yellow fever epidemic that hit Pensacola that year, the first session of the legislature was held in the yard of the de la Rua home under a large oak tree.  The legend also states it is likely one or two meetings of the delegates were held there, including  the Andrew Jackson meetings.  The large oak tree, which is still standing on Gull Point today, is known as Constitution Oak.

At the time of de la Rua’s death, the de la Rua portion of Gull Point was sold by his wife, Margaretta, to Judge John Cameron on May 6, 1833.

Cameron merged with Walker Anderson and Benjamin Overman in a stream saw-mill business which they built on Gull Point.  Due to extended credit and excessive indebtness that accumulated while running the saw-mill, Cameron lost the business and the property on Gull Point.

At this point in the ownership of the Gull Point property the records are vague.  It is possible Yniestra bought the Cameron portion of Gull Point at the time Cameron lost it.

Court records do show Dr. John A. Brosnaham did purchase the 251 acres of Gull Point around 1875 from Yniestra.

After Brosnaham bought the property, he had a photograph taken of the house which shows the orange trees planted by Bonifay some 50 years earlier.  Brosnaham shipped the oranges in his own boat to Pensacola where he sold them in the old market house on Palafox and Main streets.

For the first time since the original Spanish land grant, the Gull Point property evolved from family ownership to corporate ownership.  On Feb. 7, 1902, Brosnaham and his wife, Sallie, sold Gull Point to the Pensacola Tar and Turpentine Company for $3,500.

According to a deed recorded in the office of the Secretary of State, a corporation known as the Pensacola Tar and Turpentine Co. was forming in 1901.  D.Y. McMillan, H.H. Boyer,  B. Forbes,  H.N. Roberts,  J.M. Muldon,  L.M. Levy and F.E. Mariner formed the company with a capital investment of $24,000 divided into shares of $100 each.

The Gull Point property would become the site for the construction of a flotation business and a community for its workers.

According to the late Professor H. Clay Armstrong, the Pensacola Tar and Turpentine Co. was the first plant built for the extraction of rosin, turpentine and tar from pine log stumps.

The company provided a very close-fitting community for its workers.  Housing was built for both the white and blue-collar workers between 1902 and 1906.  A train depot was built allowing the L&N railroad to make three mail deliveries a day.  A company store offered the only provisions that could be bought with the coupons by which the employees were paid.  Because all services were offered by the plant, people on both sides of the track were dependent on the company.

The war years hurt the port city, causing foreign trade to drop off in 1918.  The hustle and bustle of the port picked up a little after the war, but Pensacola’s cypress trees were of little use in an age of steel ships.

Due to the decreased importance of lumber, the 1920’s and early 1930’s were a period of comparative stagnation in Pensacola’s economic growth.  By the end of the late 30’s the method used to process the pine products had progressed.

By Feb. 23, 1927, the Pensacola Tar and Turpentine Co. had merged with the National Turpentine Co.  of Jacksonville.  On the following Feb. 13,1928 the National Turpentine  Products Co sold out to the Wood Chemical Co. of Cleveland, Ohio for $1.

From 1927 to 1946 the original houses built by the Pensacola Tar and Turpentine Co. on Gull Point were rented from Sam Fletcher of Jacksonville.  Not wanting to sell the land piece  by piece, in 1946 Fletcher subdivided the Gull Point land and sold it to interested families.

Life on Gull Point has slowed down considerably in comparison to the Spanish era and lumber boom.  The lush green woods and large oak trees festooned with Spanish moss keep the home-owners on Gull Point isolated in a nice way.

Now included in the city limits, the people of Gull Point are close to everything and want for nothing, especially privacy

Women’s History Month – Mariana Bonifay

Women’s History Month – Mariana Bonifay
Published Pensacola News Journal, Sun., Mar. 30, 2003.

Women`s History Month shouldn`t be allowed to slip by – as it`s about to do – without spotlighting Mariana Bonifay, a pioneering Pensacola businesswoman if ever there was one. Bonifay bought land, built houses and made money in Pensacola 200 years ago. And she did it all while raising 14 children – the count varies, but 14 seems the popular number – and that, mind you, before the days of Sesame Street and Mothers` Morning Out (not to mention some relevant medical advancements). The next time they bring a film festival to town, I think they should include a movie about Mariana. Besides being an adventurous and astute businesswoman, she fulfills another must-have for Hollywood scripts: the love angle. It`s almost certain that the “community of interests” – so described in her will – that she shared for 30 years or more with business partner Charles LaValle did not include a marriage certificate, although it did produce six or more of her children. One tidbit filmmakers aren`t likely to overlook: Historic accounts indicate she was carrying her third child by LaValle when she received word that her husband, Joseph Bonifay, had been killed the year before, in 1801. Mr. Bonifay, who was apparently in the military – perhaps the Spanish – hadn`t been heard from for several years. Mariana was born in France about 1760, married on the island of Santo Domingo and moved to then-Spanish ruled Pensacola about 1781, according to Pensacola Historical Society records. She bought a house on West Intendencia Street in 1784 – in her maiden name of Mariana Pingrow – for herself and then-five children. In 1790, to earn a livelihood, she formed the partnership with LaValle, a neighbor and carpenter, then about 18. She provided cash for lumber, apparently drawing on family means, and he built the homes for the town`s rapidly growing population (likely numbering about 600 by 1795) – colonization being encouraged by the Spanish government. Home lots were acquired through land grant or tax sales. One LaValle home, circa 1805, still stands, on Church Street. In 1807 the partners also invested in a brickyard, which in 1807 to 1808 turned out some 290,200 bricks, in three years netting $6,058 profit. The business climate was rough-hewn in Mariana Bonifay`s time. Pensacola was a frontier town, surrounded by sometimes- unfriendly Indians and flying under a different flag every 20 years or so. (Also lacking, needless to say, were today`s niceties of paved streets, indoor plumbing and e-mail.) Mariana Bonifay defied convention (as well as conventional morality): She pursued business at a time when women were expected to stick to hearth and home. “She was a successful businesswoman and extremely independent – that was one of the keys to her success,” said Randall Broxton, Pensacola Junior College history professor. Despite obstacles, she grew in wealth and status. When Andrew Jackson came to govern the newly American possession in 1821, he and wife Rachel were entertained by Mariana in her bayshore home. She died in 1829. About the time of the Civil War, her descendants constituted a goodly share – some say one-third – of Pensacola`s population. Now there`s a woman who made history.

Pioneer, entrepreneur and mother of 10: Bonifay helped shape Scenic Highway

Pioneer, entrepreneur and mother of 10: Bonifay helped shape Scenic Highway

Published, Tuesday, March, 13, 2001 Pensacola News Journal, Nicole Lozare

She has been called the Mother of Pensacola, and she literally helped build the Scenic Highway area with her successful brickyard. Yet, after more than 200 years, French-born Marianna Pingrow Bonifay’s life in Pensacola is still a bit mysterious. Books and other research materials have conflicting reports on everything from her name to the number of children she had to which Pensacola gentleman she considered her companion. “Basically, the amount of surviving records are limited. So there’s different interpretations,” said Tom Muir, museum administrator for the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board. Historians agree, though, that Bonifay and her descendants left an enduring mark on Pensacola. The pioneer came to Pensacola in the late 1700s . A single mom, she raised 10 children, according to one count, produced 145,000 bricks a year at her Bonifay Brickyards and juggled several other business interests from real estate to cattle farming. The grand matriarch of the Bonifay family, which still thrives in Pensacola today, lived and constructed her brickyards on what is now Scenic Highway. Historians believe that Bonifay came to America with her husband, Joseph Bonifay, who may have been connected to the Spanish military forces stationed in New Orleans and Pensacola. “We don’t know if he ever arrived here. We surmised that he was on the Gulf Coast with the Louisiana regiment and that at a later time period she has a relationship with Charles Lavalle,” said Muir. There is no record that Marianna and Joseph Bonifay ever lived together in Pensacola. She had six children with Bonifay. By 1784, Marianna Bonifay, then 26, was living with Sgt. Josef Domingo, 42, with one of her three children, his two children and four family servants, according to the 1784 census. She later purchased land from Domingo, which she put in her name instead of her husband’s, as was the usual practice at that time. All of Bonifay’s children read and wrote French and Spanish. They also knew how to keep books, just like their mother. One historian wrote that the children also picked up pieces of American Indian dialect as well as some army expressions not fit to print. In 1790, Bonifay invested her entire estate in a business venture with Lavalle, a carpenter and builder. The two would acquire new property, fix it up and then sell it for a profit. They became both business and romantic partners, owning several properties in Pensacola. They also had four children together, Muir said. She and Lavalle owned a home on Gaberonne Point and operated brick kilns near the clay bluffs on Escambia Bay. Bonifay also owned a cattle ranch in Cantonment. When she died in 1829, Bonifay left several properties on Scenic Highway to her children. She died, as she had requested, at her “country abode on the Bay of Scambia.”