Pensacola is in Mayes County midway between Adair and Langley on State Highway 28. The town's history can be traced to 1840 to a way station located at the Cabin Creek Crossing along the old Texas Road. At Pensacola, Joseph Lynch (Greenbriar Joe) Martin became a prosperous trader, dealing in cattle, horses, oxen, and slaves. During the Civil War Union forces commandeered the Cabin Creek Crossing location as a supply station between Fort Scott, Kansas, and Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. Two Civil War battles were fought there, and Martin's Pensacola was destroyed. Following the war Pensacola reemerged in 1896 as a small store and post office at the home of Greenbriar Joe's son, Richard Martin, three miles south of the original location. In 1909 the post office was moved one and one-half miles north to Isaac Garber's general store, with "Uncle Ike" Garber as postmaster.
The coming of the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf (MO&G) Railroad to this area in 1912 brought Pensacola a change of location and a change from a community to a town. In 1909 James Sims Wilson from Paris, Kentucky, established a ranch north of Grand River and east of Cabin Creek. The MO&G crossed his ranch, and Wilson began planning for a townsite along the right-of-way. Since his proposed town was within the area served by the Pensacola post office, he worked with Ike Garber, and it was agreed that Uncle Ike's general store and the post office (including the building) would be moved two miles southeast to the new town site. On April 2, 1912, Wilson filed the Pensacola townsite plat of record in the county clerk's office.
Most of Pensacola's growth occurred during the first two years. By late summer 1913 the town had at least twenty-five dwellings, a bank, hardware store, doctor's office, lumberyard, two drug stores, two livery stables, three general merchandise stores, hotel, newspaper, telephone exchange, pool hall, barber shop, meat market, ice and cold storage company, poultry and produce house, blacksmith shop, feed mill, post office, grain elevator, stockyard, two-story, brick school, Methodist Church, and a railroad depot providing freight, express, and passenger service.
Pensacola had the advantage of a railroad. This was perhaps more than offset by the fact that it now had a limited trade area, fenced in on three sides by the Wilson Ranch, with only ranch roads on the east, south, and west. Also, the lack of a bridge across the Grand River greatly restricted trade. Pensacola was not destined to become more than a small country town supported by farming and ranching. By 1918 it had an estimated population of 250. A brief national depression during Pres. Warren G. Harding's administration drastically reduced the price of cattle and farm products, and Pensacola's bank was declared insolvent in 1921. A surge of prosperity followed, but the Great Depression of the 1930s dashed all hope of recovery and reduced Pensacola to no more than a general store, post office, grain elevator, stockyard, school, church, and blacksmith shop. In 1937 the proposed construction of a dam on Grand River five miles east brought renewed hope for a return of prosperity. A chamber of commerce was formed, and the town was incorporated in 1938. By 1943 the Pensacola Dam project was completed, and good roads were built, but the anticipated growth never came. The 1940 population of 109 had by 1950 dwindled to 48, not to rise above 90 in the twentieth century.
Since 1940 Pensacola has lost its school, post office, grain elevator, stockyard, and blacksmith shop, but has gained a modern water and sewer system. The town is connected to an expanding recreational area. In 2000 the population stood at 71 citizens.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donovan Hofsommer, ed., Railroads in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1977). Pryor (Oklahoma) Jeffersonian, 19 May 1938. George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974). Emmet Starr, History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folk Lore (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Warden Company, 1921).
Paul & June Venamon
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