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Sign Raiders Reveal Name Change Secret 42 Years Later

November 28, 1990

CANTONMENT, Fla. (AP) _ It took 42 years for four men to admit they waged war on road signs with a Model A Ford to wipe North Pensacola from the map and help restore their small town’s historic name.

″We’ve kept it secret all these years,″ said John Huelsbeck, 66, who owns a garage in Cantonment. ″We were actually afraid of getting arrested.″

Cantonment, an unincorporated town about 10 miles north of Pensacola, was renamed North Pensacola by postal authorities in 1948, apparently to identify a mill there with Pensacola, according to news reports of the time.

Residents were miffed, said retired postmistress Clare Booth, 89.

″They didn’t like the idea because most of the people around there had lived there most all of their lives, particularly the older settlers,″ she said.

Huelsbeck, his brother, Pete, 65, Eugene Kittrell, also 65, and Jack Booth, 62, said they plowed over highway signs bearing the name North Pensacola with a Model A Ford and stole a 12-foot-long sign off the side of the railroad depot.

The group nailed the railway depot sign to a telephone pole at Pensacola’s northern city limits and called the Pensacola News Journal, which ran a photograph that caused a stir.

The name of the town was changed back to Cantonment on Jan. 1, 1949, but Clare Booth said she wasn’t sure how much influence Huelsbeck and his gang had on the decision.

The raiders broke their silence in a story Wednesday in the News Journal.

″I thought I should let my people know, my kids and my grandkids,″ John Huelsbeck said. ″We were kind of scared, but I feel like it was instrumental (in preserving Cantonment’s name) so why not be proud of it?″

Cantonment, Spanish for military encampment, was where then-Gen. Andrew Jackson spent a month in 1821, waiting for Spanish Gov. Jose Callava in Pensacola to relinquish West Florida to the United States.

Jackson, who later became president, already had sent his wife into Pensacola, but he and his troops remained at the ″cantoonment,″ as Jackson spelled it.

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