Panama City’s white, sandy beaches attract thousands of tourists each year. These days we enjoy a dip into the cool, blue waters of the Gulf Coast, but at one point it was considered “no man’s land”, and visitors were very scarce. The area was originally inhabited by the Creek Indian Tribe, and the first time Panama City was first seen by outsiders was from sailors aboard Spanish exploring ships. In the early 1800s the army, under order from former President Andrew Jackson, began to survey the land, as the United States government was becoming concerned over the apparent lawlessness of the area. Once the area was under control of the United States, many soldiers actually settled in the area once their duties in the army were fulfilled in 1821.
By 1825 the nearby St. Andrew Bay became a port of entry for the shipment of cotton, pork, beef, and lumber in exchange for household needs like salt and coffee. There was some disagreement on who actually owned the land that Panama City sits on, but ultimately Florida was granted the land over nearby Alabama.
Panama City had a variety of different names before being officially established in 1906. It was named Floriopolis until 1887, when the name was changed to Park Resort when it was sold, and then renamed Harrison in honor of our 9th President, William H. Harrison. Finally, Panama City was named as such by George Mortimer West in 1888, since the area is directly between Panama and Chicago, Il. Panama City did not become incorporated until 1909.
During this time, Panama City was experiencing a large population growth, as civil war veterans and other soldiers settled. With this new population boom, jobs had to be created, and many entrepreneurs found great opportunities to make money. The most lucrative export in the area was timber, as Panama City was home to pine and oak trees that towered over 300 feet! Fishing was an obvious industry, and had been since settlers first set up their homes along the bay area. Panama City soon had a booming lumberyard, the St. Andrew Lumber Company, and a railroad that could quickly export their wares.
Throughout the first part of the 1900s Panama City continued to steadily grow in population and new technologies. In 1933 the United States Army Engineers began work to deepen the waters of the bay, allowing for larger shipping vessels to dock, and by 1938 a new radio station was founded, allowing residents to stay connected to the world around them. During World War II, Tyndall Field, now the Tyndall Air Force Base, was established as a gunnery, and the Wainwright Shipyard constructed 102 Liberty ships, as well as 6 tankers for US soldiers fighting overseas. As Panama City opened its doors to the US Navy, an airport was created in 1948, ushering in a new era of transportation.
Today, Panama City is a vastly different place than it once was. A booming tourism industry brings in visitors of all ages and nationalities, looking to relax on the sunny beaches, enjoy water sports and snorkeling, or enjoy some family time in nearby theme parks. Panama City’s history paved the way for the area to enjoy the pride of hosting many military families, and the privilege of living next to some of the most beautiful beaches in America.