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.