A Brief History of Public Health in
Escambia County, Florida
John J. Lanza, MD, PhD, MPH, FAAP
Director, Escambia County Health Department
Verified by: John Appleyard, Historian
University of West Florida
The history of public health in Escambia County began in 1821 when Florida became a possession of the United States. One of the first ordinances of territorial rule promulgated by Territorial Governor Andrew Jackson established a board of health and quarantine station in Pensacola. The main disease prevalent at that time was yellow fever.
In 1826, the first U.S. Naval Hospital was constructed at the Pensacola Naval Yard. Since malaria and yellow fever were common, legend has it that the 12 foot high brick fence around the hospital was built to keep out mosquitoes.
In 1854, a United States Marine Hospital was established in Pensacola.
In 1889, Florida’s new constitution set up the State Board of Health and local health departments. Although the legislation was repealed in 1893, the Escambia County Board of Health did not close and continued in operation.
The present Escambia County Health Department (ECHD) was re-organized on March 1, 1932, and in 1933, a TB sanitorium for all races was founded in Pensacola.
In 1936, a Rockefeller Foundation grant helped establish Escambia’s Malaria and Mosquito Control Program which was one of the first in the State and served as a model for other areas.
In 1941, an extensive program for the control of venereal diseases was pursued and for the first time in the history of the State, quarantines were used on 15 houses and a number of other establishments for the control of sexually transmitted diseases.
In 1945, Escambia County had the highest incidence of typhus of any county in the nine southeastern states, but, with the advent of a typhus control program at this health department, no cases were reported in 1949.
In 1953, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance establishing the county health department as a continuing county function. Subsequently, the health department has grown and expanded its services from Pensacola to Century.
At 186 years old, the Escambia County Health Department is possibly the oldest continuously operating health department in the United States and perhaps the world. We will endeavor to continue leading the State of Florida in public health services to our citizens.