Smith's Bakery is a Pensacola landmark — and one Florida's most endangered historic sites

·4 min read

This story has been updated to clarify the timeline of the bakery's construction.

For more than half a century, Smith's Bakery was a fixture of Belmont-DeVilliers.

What most people remember best is the scent of fresh-baked bread that filled the Belmont-DeVilliers area every morning. But beyond that, the large industrial complex served as the community's economic epicenter for 65 years, once employing over 100 workers.

Robin Reshard, executive director of the Kukua Institute and a local historian, said the building is an important economic, physical and cultural landmark for the community.

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The Rev. John Powell gives a tour of the old Smith Bakery in Belmont-DeVilliers on Thursday. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recently named the building to Florida's 11 to Save, a list of the most threatened historic places in the state.
The Rev. John Powell gives a tour of the old Smith Bakery in Belmont-DeVilliers on Thursday. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recently named the building to Florida's 11 to Save, a list of the most threatened historic places in the state.

"This building has roots," Reshard said. "What you're seeing is above ground. It's like an iceberg, so you're just seeing the tip of it."

A group of local and state preservationists are working ensure the history of Smith's Bakery isn't lost to time.

Last week, Smith's Bakery was listed as part of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation's 2022 Florida's 11 to Save, a list of the most threatened historic places in the state. The sites on the list are nominated by the public, and the list is designed to increase public awareness of the need to save historic Florida landmarks, highlight Florida's unique history, and inspire and empower local preservationists and community groups to protect their history.

The former bakery, which occupies the northwest corner of Belmont and DeVilliers streets just north of Five Sisters Blues Café, is now home to Truth for Youth, a nonprofit focused on serving underprivileged, low-income and at-risk youth through events like toy distributions, benefit concerts, back-to-school drives and more.

The Rev. John Powell, head of the organization, said he was in disbelief when he heard the news of Smith's Bakery making the list. He was ecstatic that there would be another landmark to show the history of the Belmont-DeVilliers community known as "The Blocks." Belmont-DeVilliers is one of two locations in Florida that are designated as stops on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recently named the old Smith Bakery in Belmont-DeVilliers to its 11 to Save, a list of the most threatened historic places in the state.
The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recently named the old Smith Bakery in Belmont-DeVilliers to its 11 to Save, a list of the most threatened historic places in the state.

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"It's great because it gives you a legacy for the youth," Powell said. "To come back and see what my granddaddy was talking about, what my grandma was talking about — it really did exist."

Located at 401 N. Reus St., an African American man named Robert Hughes Bennett in operated his business, Bennett's Bakery, on the land in 1910. Bennett was the first to bring the smell of bread and sweets to the historic four corners of The Blocks. Then in about 1920-1922, Joseph Reed acquired the land and built the Belmont Building in 1923.

Smith's Bakery was founded by Gordon Smith in 1899 in Mobile, Alabama, and grew into a company employing 600 staff producing baked goods throughout the entire Gulf region. In 1924, Smith bought the Belmont Building from Reed and in the same year opened another Smith Bakery where it ultimately employed over 100 workers to produce Sunbeam English muffins and rolls. A major part of the city's African American history, Smith's Bakery closed in 1990 because it was considered dated and obsolete for modern day bakery needs.

The former Smith's Bakery bakery, which occupies the northwest corner of Belmont and DeVilliers streets just north of Five Sisters Blues Café, is now home to Truth for Youth, a nonprofit that serves underprivileged, low-income and at-risk youth.
The former Smith's Bakery bakery, which occupies the northwest corner of Belmont and DeVilliers streets just north of Five Sisters Blues Café, is now home to Truth for Youth, a nonprofit that serves underprivileged, low-income and at-risk youth.

The bakery complex has suffered neglect over the years, but Powell and others in the community are working to help restore and maintain the building and preserve the prominent historical and cultural center for the Belmont-DeVilliers community.

Reshard said she wants to research what was on those grounds before the bakery, learn more about what people may have previously occupied the space, and try to see what can other information can be dug up about the land's history.

"What you see on the surface is one thing, but there's more to the story than what this building is showing," Reshard said. "This building stands as a witness to those stories, if you only dig, and I think that's what this building is calling for us to do."

Truth for Youth is now seeking funds to restore the complex to serve as a history and cultural center for the surrounding community. Recently, they launched a campaign to help pay off the building and install renovations, and Powell hopes Smith's Bakery's placement on the 11 to Save list will raise awareness of their efforts.

"I'm glad that it's been placed on that list. It is over 100 years old and that corner of Belmont is over 100 years," Powell said. "When you look inside of it, you can see the brick floors, the brick wall, the awesome experience you feel when you walk through the building, it's overwhelming."

To donate to Truth for Youth, visit truthforyouth.org.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Smith's Bakery in Pensacola listed on Florida's 11 to Save list