Monday, June 28, 2010

Islands of the World #11: Santa Rosa (Florida, USA)

Santa Rosa Island is a 40-mile barrier island located off the coast of Florida, and thirty miles east of the Alabama state border. The communities of Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach, and Okaloosa Island are located on the island. On the northern lee side of the island, are Pensacola Bay on the west and Choctawhatchee Bay on the east, joined through Santa Rosa Sound.

Santa Rosa Island has been the site of numerous hurricanes and other tropical cyclones, including the hurricane of September 1559, Hurricane Erin and Hurricane Opal (1995), Hurricane Ivan (2004), Hurricane Dennis (2005), Tropical Storm Claudette (2009), and the remnants of Hurricane Ida (2009).

Parts of the island are in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Santa Rosa Island was the start of the earliest European settlement in the mainland United States, beginning in August 1559, led by Tristan de Luna from New Spain (Mexico).

Santa Rosa Island was the site of early exploration by the Spanish Conquistadors, about 1519. A settlement expedition arrived from Vera Cruz (of New Spain), in August 1559, led by Tristan de Luna. However, Spanish settlements in the area were later abandoned in 1561, due to a combination of problems -frequent storms, famine, and conflicts with native inhabitants.

St. Augustine, Florida was later settled on the Atlantic coast of Florida, on August 28, 1565.

During the American Civil War, the island was the site of the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, on October 9, 1861. Richard Anderson crossed from the Florida mainland to Santa Rosa Island with 1200 men, in two small steamers, in a failed attempt to capture Fort Pickens (located on the west end of the island).

In 1929, Santa Rosa Island was sold by the U.S. War Department to Escambia County, Florida, for US$10,000. Ten years later, the county returned the island to the federal government in the expectation that it would be developed into a U.S. National Monument preserving the remnants of Fort Pickens.

An 875-acre parcel of Santa Rosa Island with 3 miles of Gulf frontage was conveyed to Okaloosa County on July 8, 1950 in an informal ceremony at the county courthouse in Crestview, Florida. The county paid the federal government $4,000 to complete the transaction, which was the result of the efforts of Congressman Bob Sikes.

The portion of Santa Rosa Island transferred is now known as Okaloosa Island. While the beach road onto U.S. Air Force property west of the Okaloosa Island portion of Santa Rosa Boulevard was unguarded and accessible into the 1980s, heightened security concerns in the modern era have led to it being guarded or blocked at all times. Various missile launch and test facilities exist on Santa Rosa Island south and southwest of Hurlburt Field.

The island has been the landfall for many tropical cyclones; it was the landfall point of 1995's Hurricane Erin and Hurricane Opal. Hurricane Dennis hit the island in July 2005, and with 120 mph winds, was the strongest storm to do so. However, a more recent tropical cyclone to make landfall on the island was Tropical Storm Claudette in 2009.

From 2008-2009, a sunken Spanish ship was located/excavated offshore, confirming reports of the 1559 expedition by Tristan de Luna, as the earliest European settlement in the mainland United States.

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