A Glimpse of a 19th Century Navy Town

Note in the above photo, the brick wall enclosing the Naval Yard in the foreground;
historic Broadway Avenue north of the wall; and houses of Woolsey adjacent to Broadway.

Beginning in 1994 and running through 1998, the consulting services of Pensacola Archeology Lab worked in conjunction with the United States Navy and several private firms to complete a large archeological investigation of the historic Navy town of Woolsey. Woolsey was built in the 1820s by the U.S. Navy to house the workers who built the U.S. Naval Yard in Pensacola, Florida. This archeology project was initiated due to new construction in the area of the CNET Training Complex aboard the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The construction activities impacted the historical zone of Woolsey and required archeological monitoring. Monitoring of deep utility trenches and pavement removal resulted in hundreds of features and over ten thousand well preserved artifacts.

The archeological investigations at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida documented a rich and useful record of the ways of life in a small Navy town that no longer exists. This study combines the archeological and historic records of Woolsey in an attempt to make sense out of the hundreds of archeological features and millions of artifacts recovered during salvage operations and excavations. Although other archeological proveniences provided valuable data and a wealth of artifacts, it is the 220 features found during the monitoring that provided the most detailed and reliable view of life in Woolsey.


A wide range of features were encountered and identified. Features included segments of the sidewalk associated with a major street, Broadway, midden deposits, seawall segments, other types of retaining walls, barrel wells, cisterns, support posts, a pond used for wet storage of oak ship timbers, architectural ruins, and refuse pits.

The town of Woolsey was a small community whose ebb and flow of prosperity was directly linked to the importance the U.S. Navy put on the Naval Yard. Woolsey thrived between 1828 until the onset of the Civil War. During the 1862 bombardment of Woolsey, the Naval Yard sustained heavy damage and the towns of Warrington and Woolsey were burned. Following the Civil War, the Naval Yard and Woolsey were rebuilt, but the Naval Yard maintained a low profile operation until the Spanish American War began. Between 1898 and 1905, the Naval Yard was again a busy place, but beginning in 1905 yellow fever epidemics and lack of funding limited the utility of the Naval Yard and impacted the residents of Woolsey. Many of the citizens of Pensacola, Warrington, and Woolsey are said to have evacuated the area and work at the Naval Yard was brought to a standstill for weeks or months. A hurricane struck Woolsey and the Naval Yard in 1906, inflicting heavy damage. The facility never fully recovered from the storm damage and in 1911, the Pensacola Naval Yard was officially closed because it was not prepared to handle steel ships. The few remaining structures associated with the town of Woolsey were razed in the 1920s.

The Woolsey Project was unique in many aspects. The construction project was huge in itself, the size of a small college campus. Many hundreds of people were involved in the construction and it was a marvel of cooperation. The men and women with whom we worked were professional and helpful. The field logistics of monitoring and excavating were complex. The PAL Team, the U.S. Navy, and the private construction companies are to be commended for the effort. The construction companies included: Clarke Construction, Bechtel Environmental, Jimenez Construction, DCO Construction, Whitesell-Green, Barnes Electric Company, Brownesville Welding, Hardy Electric, Hedgecock Electric, Kimmins Contracting, Poole and Kent, and Southern Utility.

Click on the links below for more illustrations of Woolsey archeology.

Early 19th century map showing the locations of Woolsey, Warrington, and the Naval Yard near the mouth of Pensacola Bay.

A sketch showing the architectural design for the early buildings at Woolsey and Warrington (circa 1826) from the archives of the Pensacola Historical Society.

Civil War period cannonball found at Woolsey atop the historic sidewalk adjacent to Broadway.

1914 aerial photograph showing historic Building 33 and the blimp hangar

1932 aerial photograph showing NAS with Warrington and Woolsey razed. The last remnants of Woolsey are next to the blimp hangar.

Photograph and drawing of Feature 2, a circular shaped brick and mortar cistern covered with plaster located near the blimp hangar.

Photograph of Feature 23, ship timbers being recovered from the remains of Commodores Pond,and placed into a freshwater holding pond to preserve the timbers until they could be reburied.

Photograph of Feature 34, a circular refuse pit.

Photograph of field assistant excavating feature 147, a refuse pit.

Photograph of Feature 164, historic brick, mortar, and plaster sidewalk adjacent to Broadway Street.

Photograph of dummy practice bombs made of concrete, metal, and wood, from Feature 172, stored at the PAL lab facility.

Artifact processing at PALs archeology lab facility. Over 10,000 artifacts were recovered from Woolsey.

Two photographs of a brick and mortar cistern. The top shows a field assistant excavating the cistern, Feature 197, in the work environment. The bottom photo shows the cistern fully exposed and cleaned for archeological study and documentation.

Photograph of PAL field assistant excavating Feature 218, a barrel well.

Photograph of PAL field assistants excavating a brick rubble feature.


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