History of Panama City 2021

history of Panama City

Picture courtesy of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce.

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History of Panama City 


The history of Panama City is rich and fascinating. It has been inhabited by many different nationalities and cultures its long history.

The first settlers were during the first ice age some 13,000 years ago. A shell midden has been found in the Oaks By The Bay Park and subsequently, more middens were discovered along the shore line of St Amdrew’s Bay.

These shell middens (a midden is our equivalent of a refuse dump for domestic waste) are aged between 5,000 - 2,500 years old. They were found alongside fossils of sabre-toothed cats, woolly mammoths and other long extinct wildlife.

Temples were build on top of many middens and by the year 700 AD, shell goods were traded as far north as present day New York and Minnesota.

The Spanish arrived in the 16th century and found the area to be inhabited by the Yucci and Chactot tribes. The Chactot tribe eventually died out but the Yuccu survived by fleeing north and westwards.

Soon, other European visitors arrived, mainly pirates, who were attracted to the riches being transported on Spanish galleons on their way back to Spain.

The area was sparsely populated until the Cherokee and Creek tribes arrived. Around 1765, an English settlement was formed and became a fishing village (St. Andrew) and this is now the current day St. Andrews area of Panama City.

The area of Panama City was founded by loyalists during the Revolutionary War. They utilized the land to grow indigo and to develop prosperous industries, like naval stores and lumbering.

Later, during the Civil War, the fishing village of St. Andrew (which would later merge with Millville to become today’s Panama City) housed fisheries and saltworks that were destroyed by the Union.  

Seminoles and white settlers formed most of the local population by the 1830s, but the area began to attract tourists interested in fishing and soaking in the Gulf of Mexico's waters. The salt extracted from the bay was said to successfully treat a number of ailments and was supplied to Confederate troops during the American Civil War (1861 to 1865).

Federal soldiers frequently invaded the area's first town and destroyed it altogether in 1863

Before it became known as Panama City, this area went by several names: Floriopolis, Park Resort, and Harrison. The moniker we know today wasn’t put in place until 1906, and the city became officially incorporated in 1909.

George Mortimer West is credited with the name. The name was derived from its proximity to the Panama City Canal in Panama and was the closest US port to this important trade route.

Panama City Beach was founded in 1936 and Panama City truly hit its stride in World War II, when it became a prominent port and shipbuilding area. The population boomed thanks to the increase in industrialism.

George West wanted to spur more real estate in the county, and people were interested in the area thanks to the Panama Canal. If a line was drawn from Chicago to Panama, this city was right on the pathway, hence the name Panama City. The city was also the US mainland’s closest port to the Panama Canal’s Caribbean entrance. 

The construction of the Coastal Highway (US 98) came next along with Hathaway and DuPont bridges in 1929. This opened the first east-west highway along the Gulf Coast. The Lynn Haven-Southport bridge was completed in 1925, giving traffic a north-south road to the bay.

Hathaway Bridge made the beaches’ long stretch of sparkling white sand accessible to motorists and tourists. Beaches such as the original Panama City Beach, Long Beach, Sunnyside, Inlet Beach and others had their beginnings during this time.

The history of Panama City is inextricably  linked to St Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The bay and the local waters have shaped its history and continues to do so.

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach was founded in 1936 and soon became the #1 Spring Break destination in the world.

Panama City and Panama City Beach have been thriving ever since.  

Panama City Beach is still one of the  fastest growing destination spots in the US. With the beautiful sugar white sand and the gorgeous emerald blue/green waters there’s not much more you can ask for! I, myself have lived in Panama City Beach for over 15 years and have seen the many changes it has gone through.

As I have grown older I have come to appreciate Panama City & Panama City Beach a whole lot more. The natural side of it’s beauties and all the sea life that make up a large percentage of our coast line.

Theres so much more to Panama City & Panama City Beach all you have to do is go out there!

Fun activities for everyone

You can find many family-friendly activities in Panama City Beach that celebrate its history.

The first place to check out is Historic St. Andrews. The community has a free guided walking tour that leads you throughout the town and lets you in on all the historical locations. You can also take a self-guided audio tour.

While here, you should also check out the Panama City Publishing Museum. The attraction was built by George Mortimer West himself and was home to the city’s first newspaper. You can observe original equipment, photos, newspapers, and more. Admission is free for the whole family. History enthusiasts will love this break from the many sun-soaked outside fun things to do in Panama City Beach Florida.

For a wider look at the area, visit the Bay County Historical Museum. Free of charge, The Bay County History Museum, 133 Harrison Ave. in historic downtown Panama City, is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.open three days a week, this museum has been preserving and displaying historical documents and items for over 75 years. They also host a regular lecture series from September to May.

One more fun historical site is the Robert Lee McKenzie House. Robert Lee Mackenzie was Panama City’s first mayor and was a state representative. He’s most well-known for putting together the Gulf Coast Development Company, pushing the city to become the coastal center it is today.

What do locals do when they can’t go visit the beach??

There’s plenty of things to do when the sun goes on vacation as well.

For the kid oriented family fun we have:

Fun Land - one of the original arcades left in PCB. Has anywhere from the latest games, to some of the “oldies but goodies”. (Best burger around!) My mother and I go there all the time just for the burger! Delicious!

Cobra Arcade - Is another family oriented arcade/mini golf/go cart track with a couple of wild attractions such as the “Wild Thing” and “The Sling Shot”. Great thing to do after a long da on the beach without beating up your wallet. Friendly owners and great staff ensure your time with them isn’t anything but great. Go spend your afternoon at Cobra Arcade.

Wonderworks - a science focused indoor amusement park, combines education and entertainment. With over 100 hands-on exhibits – there is something unique and challenging for all ages. Feel the power of 84mph hurricane–force winds in the Hurricane Shack. Make huge, life–sized bubbles in the Bubble Lab. Get the NASA treatment in their Astronaut Training Gyro and experience zero gravity. Nail it by lying on the death–defying Bed of Nails. Great time for all ages!

Ripleys Believe it or Not - Filled with fun facts, history, and wild artifacts! Mind blowing 7D moving theatre, mirror mazes, impossible laser races you’ll be entertained for hours!

Dave and Busters - They have a massive arcade, virtual reality and watch sports at Dave & Buster’s in Panama City Beach. Enjoy game day with massive screens and stadium sound to amplify watching the FSU Seminoles with friends and fans. They are located right off of Front Beach Road near Pier Park Mall!

Rocket Lanes - bowling, arcade, roller blading, and food! They also have a sports bar that shows all the major games for free! Have a drink, bowl, eat, enjoy!! All the locals go on Thursday because it is $3 “You Call Its”.

Escape Rooms - fun for the whole family to get out of. My girlfriend and her friends did the escape room and had a blast. We defiantly did not get out in the right amount of time but still was very interesting to see how the room worked.

Coconut Creek Mini Golf - For adventure and fun for the whole family, Coconut Creek is one of the top things to do in Panama City Beach. Come experience the excitement and challenge of playing Coconut Creek’s two, tropical 18-hole mini-golf courses and test your navigational skills finding your way through the awesome giant size Gran Maze.

Kartona Race Track - The fastest go karts in Panama City Beach and the only indoor go kart track for kids and adults. They have arcade games and party rooms as well. Great time for everyone! Local favorite for go karts!

Gulf World - Swim with dolphins, get info on local wildlife, interact win live daily shows and performances. Enjoy the entire day at Gulf World and get in touch with nature and ll it has to offer! Great rates and friendly friends, Gulf World never disappoints!

Zoo World - great spot to find some local wild life and all kinds of crazy animals!

Want more to do?

We have another page you might like -

Amazing Things to do in Panama City Beach

There is so much more to the history of Panama City than can be covered in a short blog post. In 2018 Hurricane Michael made a direct hit just East of Panama City as a category 5 hurricane. Michael was the third most intense hurricane to hit mainland US and its impact was devastating along this part of the gulf coast and inland.

To this day, the damage is evident with many buildings destroyed and swathes of trees flattened. Tyndall Airforce Base which took a major hit is being rebuilt and in their words, is set to become the 'base of the future'. $4.3 billion is being spent on the base which is soon to be home to 70 F-35s along with hundreds of airmen and their families.

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Come and enjoy a jet ski dolphin tour with Freedom Watersports and explore our local waters, jet ski to Shell Island and swim with dolphins. We hope you have learned some useful things from our history of Panama City blog post and have a great jet ski rental tour!


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