On Saturday, June 1, downtown Pensacola’s concentration of history museums are holding their 22nd annual Open House, where admission to all parts of the complex—the T.T. Wentworth Jr. State Museum, Children’s Museum, Museum of Industry, Museum of Commerce and Historic Pensacola Village—is free.
This year, the event’s organizers at West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc. (WFHPI) have created a theme of “Time Portal,” which starts in 1559 with Tristan de Luna’s landing on Pensacola Beach. “We’re going to have re-enactors that are going to go through key points of Pensacola history all the way through 1945,” says Jim McMillen, WFHPI’s Museum Educator and Educational and Private Tour Coordinator.
“We want to incorporate Viva Florida 500 so we’re going to show the whole history,” said McMillen, “of course we have limitations, because we can only go so far back.”
The Viva Florida 500 celebration, a statewide initiative marking the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon’s voyage to Florida in 1513, celebrates the quincentennial—and how often do you get to use that word?—of the first documented European expedition in North America, which landed near St. Augustine.
Spanish explorer Don Tristan de Luna and crew found their way to Pensacola Beach in 1559, setting up the first European settlement in North America, the starting point of this year’s Open House Time Portal.
“We will have 1559 featured, along with the French, British, Spanish during the American Revolution, Native American representations, the War of 1812, the Civil War, Spanish-American War, flappers in the 1920s, and World War II,” said McMillen.
Stations throughout the village will showcase the various eras, interpreted by guides in period clothing. The 1920s house, for example, will feature flappers overseeing the delivery of a Model-T Ford to their home. For the Spanish-American War vignette, one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders will be represented, posted on the side porch of the Leer House, which, along with the other historic houses in the Village, will be open for tours.
Guided tours of the homes, which were constructed during various time periods in Pensacola’s history, begin at 10:30 a.m. and run every 30 minutes until 3:30 p.m.
Visitors can tour houses individually, said McMillen, “It won’t be our traditional guided tour, which gives you everything in an hour and a half, you’re going to get a small taste, and it’s going to be per house.” Each house tour will be no more than 20 minutes long.
Along with the tours, re-enactors will conduct cooking, musket firing and woodworking demonstrations throughout the event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The only Village building that will not be open to the public during the Open House is Old Christ Church, the site of several weddings that day.
WFHPI is creating a map for the event, which will be available at an Information Booth located at the corner of Tarragona and Zaragoza streets.
For those who have ever wondered about the boardwalk located behind the Wentworth Museum, archaeologists will be there—the colonial Commanding Officer’s Compound archaeological site—to explain the site and its history.
The Children’s Museum on Zaragoza Street, which opened in 2012, will have sheriff’s car, an ambulance, and fire truck, and an inflatable obstacle course to explore. There will also be a dunk booth on premises, but McMillen assured, “It will be a staff member [in the booth], they can’t put their parents up there.”
The museum will have stroller parking area for families exploring the two floors of exhibits within the Children’s Museum.
And, of course, the Wentworth Museum will be open to the public, with three floors of exhibits in an air conditioned building.
“It’s definitely growing,” said McMillen of the Open House event, which last year hosted between 2,500 and 3,000 guests in its six-hour timeframe. WFHPI also hosts a Fall Festival each October—the only other time all attractions are free, although there are plans to add a third event in 2014.