PACE . . . . A HISTORICAL SKETCH

by EDWARD E. NUGENT

Copyright 2000

4746 Live Oak Ln.

Used by permission of author

Pace, Fl. 32571

Anyone attempting to sketch a history of the community of PACE today will miss the resource of Frank Penton. Until his death a number of years ago he enjoyed sharing his memories and pictures that were historical treasures. My personal friendship with Ashley (Dick) Pace has also been very helpful. He is a grandson of James Pace, the founder of the Pace Community. Dick provided relevant input that just would not have been available from any other source.

Prior to 1818 while Pensacola was still occupied by the Spanish, the Chumuckla Indians traded in the Floridatown area. One must recall that Florida was then ruled by Spain while Alabama was governed by America. We know that as early as 1814 Andrew Jackson was active here quelling border incidents. He took Pensacola first in 1814, again in 1818 and the final time in 1821.

The 1818 Jackson Campaign gave birth to the legend that Jackson himself camped with his troops and slept under a large oak still called by some older residents Jackson's Oak. This is located in the Floridatown area of Pace near the waterfront homes named Jackson Estates.

David Crockett's autobiography would seem to verify that he was part of a contingent commanded by Major Uriah Blue. The wording by M. Luther King in his "History of Santa Rosa County" would seem to place the contingent in the Floridatown area. IF Major Blue was camped at Floridatown it enhances the likelihood that Jackson would have been encamped elsewhere. Penton and this writer believe Jackson himself was encamped in the Cantonment area. None the less the Jackson legend has persisted and a flamboyant political figure of the 1970s frequently dressed as General Jackson and rode his horse at a gallop onto the sight of Political Rallies where he was scheduled to speak.

When Spain began to loose her grip in the area many land grants and sales were made to "beat the clock". One VERY significant and interesting grant was made to Jacob Kelker. He was a mulatto son of a Spanish nobleman and this grant was made just prior to American control of the area. The Mulatto son received what is known as the Mulatto Bayou Grant IE part of which we today call MULAT. The Kelker Grant included the area today occupied by Air Products, which is certainly part if the Pace community.

Floridatown had the initial growth, not just of the Pace area but of Santa Rosa County. It was the early sight of trading between the white man and the Native Americans. (A fact not forgotten in current efforts by Native Americans to preserve some MARK of their heritage there.) We know that as early as the 1820s the area became "fun area". Subsequently business and government growth followed. The growth was enhanced in 1840 with the FERRY terminal. This became for years to come the tie between Santa Rosa and Escambia County. STRANGE no one seems curious as to how the area of FERRY PASS in Pensacola got its name.

After the Civil War Emory Fiske Skinner came to the area and instituted a massive logging/lumber business. A story maintains he found a loop hole in a law that made him rich. The law provided you could claim land that you could see from a boat whereupon he put a rowboat in a wagon and claimed the land he wanted. We found NO evidence that he is part of the Skinner family lineage evident in Pace today. His mill was in Escambia County in the Scenic Highway area. His book "REMINISCES" of 1908 suggests that he later regretted his practice of "strip logging" choice pines. HOWEVER he indirectly determined the future of Pace for 60 years.

A hurricane devastated the Skinner mill and JAMES G.PACE from Hazelhurst, Georgia, purchased what was left of Skinner's Operation including approximately 100,000 acres of timber, and O.F. Skinner went west. Some would call Skinner a carpet bagger and perhaps he was, but his part in the Pace, Santa Rosa County history is very significant.

James G. Pace then re-built the mill in what today is the community of Pace. It was located across Chumuckla Highway from the building currently occupied by the Pace Furniture Store. Until 1993 this was a BARNES SUPERMARKET. When his Grandfather is referred to as the founder of Pace, Ashley (Dick) Pace modestly will say, "he just started a sawmill". However James G. Pace operated in such a manner as to bring some structure to the Community which bears his name. The area was called Pea Ridge in the 1910 census but by 1912 it was known as PACE.

The sawmill provided employment for over 200 men from 1907-1927. The sawmill operated its own narrow-gauge rail-road for logging. The track ran through Santa Rosa County from Floridatown to Jay. The engines and cars were brought to Floridatown by barge since the railroad did not connect with any other line. Mr. Penton shared with me his boyhood memory that in the mill the boilers were molded with the inscription "SKINNER BOILER CO."

Mr. Pace established Company housing and a Commissary. Pace Road which fronts Dixon Elementary School was the site of such housing for supervisory level employees. Employees could elect to receive part of their pay in script that could be used in the Commissary near the mill, where their money went further.

Many blacks were employed at the mill and it has come down word of mouth that Mr. Pace was known as a man who treated them justly. His values in this regard caused him to use his influence to CAUSE OTHERS to do so, who might not have otherwise been so inclined. One of the former quarters of a Black sawmill employee is still an occupied building in Pace. It is badly in need of a facelift but the need is obviously neglect since the structure is sound. In the late 1920's J.G. Pace was sent to France as a delegate of the U.S. Government, to study forestry methods. Upon returning he put what he had learned into practice on this woodlands in Santa Rosa County.

An Andrew Jackson hotel was for a significant time an eloquent facility in Floridatown. It closed in 1966 a far cry from its days of grandeur. The building was torn down in 1967 but fortunately pictures show the Ladies with their parasols at the famous weekend dinners and parties that drew large numbers from Pensacola and Officers from N.A.S.

The children of James G. Pace and Caroline Ashley Pace in chronological order were Burgess who owned and operated the Andrew Jackson Hotel, Myrtice who married E.F. Stone the FIRST Coast Guard pilot who was the pilot of NC-4, the first plane to fly the Atlantic, (This aircraft is on display at the Nation Museum of Naval Aviation) Ashley D. one of the main founders of the paper mill in Cantonment, and John C. who is well remembered since the U.W.F. Library bears his name. He was an honored guest at the Pace High School dedication.

After the death of his wife, James G. Pace married Winona Rabb. Their children were Mary Catherine, Virginia, James G. (Jim) Jr., Winona and Frances. Jim was a prominent and respected retired gentleman in Pensacola at the time of his death a few years back. The daughters of James G. Pace ALL married Naval Aviators which PERHAPS can be called the beginning of the close tie of Pace with the Navy.

After the mill closed in 1929 a turpentine business continued on the same location for a number of years but this did not have the employment benefit the mill had. Some industry has come to Santa Rosa County but the Pace community future as a bedroom community appears to have been set by the closing of the mill and the ready access to Escambia County.

The rural atmosphere STRANGELY to this writer, for MANY years did not appeal to many. For MANY years Pace continued with only gradual growth. The Pace Civic Association has been in existence since 1958. Initially as a Civitan Club the group provided the leadership in the development of the Pace Water System. This same group ATTEMPTED to spearhead the development of a sewer system over twenty years ago. The failure was for reasons beyond the control of their local efforts. The same fate befell their effort to incorporate the Pace community, however it is acknowledged errors were made that caused this failure. However many community leaders came out of the Pace Civic Association.

One member of this group was Benny Russell who as Superintendent of Schools perhaps contributed to the FANTASTIC growth Pace has experienced recently. The reputation of Santa Rosa County schools is the reason MANY give for moving to Pace. New sub-division developments have also attracted rather affluent retirees to a community that just a few years ago many people termed "Red Neck". This year (2001) Pace had a larger graduating class than Milton. The largest Super Wal-Mart in Florida it appears will be only the beginning of the change we will yet experience in PACE.

We are PERHAPS living in the closing years for example of Spencer Field. This square mile Navy OLF (out lying field) will soon be surrounded by homes. The Navy will find it easy to move further north in Santa Rosa County and this close identity of Pace with the Navy will be lost. One generation of Naval Aviators remembered PACE for the great times at dances and other events they had at the Andrew Jackson Hotel. Thousands more will remember mastering their skills as a helicopter pilot at Spencer Field in Pace.

The History of Pace may not be SPECTACULAR by some measurements but this writer believes knowledge of the history develops a greater sense of Community.

 

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