The Historical Society of Bay County

Panama City, Florida

bayhistory.org

History of Panama City, Florida

In 1885 the small community of St. Andrew captured the attention of the nation when thousands of circulars publicized its “Free Homes and Orange Groves” throughout the United States.  The land, promoted by the  St. Andrew Bay Railroad, Land and Mining Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, became the first real estate mail-order scheme in Florida.

Thousands invested in this development scheme that invited people from all over the United States to visit “St. Andrews – By the Sea.”  The land seekers traveled by schooner to St. Andrew or by rail to Chipley and on the St Andrew by hacks, wagons or by stagecoach.

 In the beginning, the twenty-five-by eighty-two-foot lots sold for $1.25.  Within a few months, the prices were increased to $3.00, with an additional lot available for $2.00.  After depositing $1.00 down for two lots, purchasers were allowed to mail in payments of fifty cents per week.  Those who paid cash received free lots or acreage outside of town.   During the first one hundred days of the promotion, 6,000 individuals requested lots.  It was stated that 350,000 people in the United States ultimately took advantage of the terms.

While developers eyed St. Andrew in the 1880s,several individuals took up homesteads on the land that would become Panama City. C.J. Demorest and G.W. Jenks surveyed some of this property and platted it as the Town of Harrison on September 20, 1883.  The Harrison Post Office opened on the waterfront on January 14, 1889.  Harrison appeared in the St. Andrews Messenger with the caption “cool summers – pleasant winters – plenty of deer and turkey – fine oysters in abundance – trout, mullet, redfish, pompano, snapper, grouper, tarpon and turtle – and vegetables in winter.” Lots were listed for sale in the newspaper and cottages or room and board in private homes costs $4.00 a week.

 The area’s reawakening began in Millville when a French Canadian with lumber interest in Bagdad, Florida, surveyed the bay and seemingly inexhaustible surrounding forests.  The St. Andrew Lumber Company  mill was constructed at the head of Watson Bayou.  Those seeking work flocked to the mill town.  The Millville post office opened on September 29, 1899.By 1910, Millville ranked as the bay’s largest community, one that went on to produce many of the area’s most influential sons and daughters.  The town boasted six general stores, a livery, grocery and drug stores, a millinery, and several other businesses. 

 George M. West teamed with A.J. Gay and R.L. McKenzie to develop the small town of Harrison into a port city. In 1906, the group together with the Gulf Coast Development Corporation mapped plans for the town.  Harrison was renamed Panama City in 1906 after the Panama Canal which was under construction during this period.  The Panama City post office was established on July 16, 1906.  On February 23, 1909 a notice of intent to incorporate “Panama City” was published. An election for incorporation was held on February 28, 1909. Only land owners were allowed to vote and only 34 qualified voters participated in the election.

 During November, 1925, an extraordinary session of the State Legislature was called by Governor John Martin.  Among the many bills introduced was one which would combine the three separate municipalities (St. Andrew, Panama City and Millville) into one larger municipality which would be known as Panama City.  The bill was passed with the result being that on March 12, 1926, when the official change was effective the population of the City of Panama City was approximately 12,000.

 Ripley’s “Believe It or Not”  once noted that Panama City was the only city in the United States with three different post offices, each with a name of a different city, i.e.: St. Andrews, Panama City, and Millville.

 Today Panama City is both a resort and an industrial center.  It is known for the production of paper, seafood, chemicals, and other products.  Panama City campus of Florida State University is located within the city as is the Gulf Coast Community College.  The U.S. military is also a major contributor to the economy of the area with both Tyndall Air Force Base and U.S. Navy Coastal Systems Command nearby.

To learn more about Panama City today, visit:

City of Panama City official website 

Note:  Much of the above was taken from the following Books: 

"Glimpses of The Panhandle", by Harold Bell, Adams Press, Chicago, IL, 1962

"Tides-Growing Up on St. Andrew Bay", by Anne Williams Warwick, 1984,

"History of Bay County From The Beginning", by Tommy Smith, Bene/Mac Publishing, Inc., 2000

"Along The Bay", by Marlene Womack, Pictorial Heritage Publishing Company, 1994