History of Panama City Beach

Published: 20th October 2009
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When Gideon Thomas erected the Panama City Hotel in 1935, his entrepreneurial vision ignited a wave of tourism that brought the spectacular climate, stunning white sand and fun-loving visitors together. Ever since Thomas declared he was "not attempting to grow vegetables here, but I am going to grow people" tourists have been streaming to the enticing white beaches.

Actually, visitors have been streaming to Panama City for more than four centuries. Every cluster of settlers, visitors, pirates, military personnel and business people saw something unique and appealing in Panama City, but it took Thomas's driving spirit to forge a permanent haven. Now that the area has defined itself, it just keeps getting better and better as tourists arrive from around the globe. What they want is exactly what Thomas saw; the white sand beaches, the weather and the fun.

When the Spanish conquistadors discovered St. Andrew's Bay 400 years ago, they were thrilled by the deep bays, the white beaches and the breezy palm trees. They were somewhat less enthusiastic about the tall natives that resided along the water in long thatched lodges. The Spanish explorers began to build a series of forts along the Gulf Coast and for the most part the locals and the explorers tolerated each other for many years.

When General Andrew Jackson marched his troops through the area in 1818, he made note of the general lawlessness of the area, which was primarily occupied by malcontents. The United States purchased the territory in 1819. Jackson's troops were the first to actually survey St. Andrews Bay.

When Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the area began to expand in terms of agriculture, trade and port activity. St. Andrews was designated a port of entry in 1825. Cotton, cattle, beef, pork, lard and lumber were the main commodities shipped both nationally and internationally.

Watson Bay is named for James B. Watson who operated a significant lumber mill and owned much of the land between the present-day Dupont Bridge and Hathaway Bridge. A state government was established in 1839 and Congress admitted Florida to the union as a state in 1845.

During the Civil War, the Old Town St. Andrew was burned to the ground after a skirmish with Union troops. By the 1879, the abundance of fish around St. Andrews Bay lured settlers back. Another sawmill was constructed in 1885 and the area began to sprout. The telephone arrived in 1896. The St. Andrews Lumber Company flourished, providing jobs to the expanding population. Eventually, the mill was sold to the German-American Lumber Co. in 1900.

When the United Fruit Company of New Orleans went on strike in 1905, the Vice President relocated the company to the port of St. Andrews. The location offered a willing work force and easy access to Panama City, Panama, an important Central American connection.

The United Fruit Company moved on to Tampa but the name Panama City stuck at St. Andrews Bay. By 1906, Panama City was booming. Asa Candler, the founder of Coca Cola, donated funds to assure the completion of the Atlanta and St. Andrews Bay railway in 1908.

The Gulf Coast Highway 98 and the Hathaway, Dupont and Bailey bridges were all completed in the 1930's. These bridges linked Panama City and Lynn Haven to the beaches. The U.S. Corps of Engineers dredged the harbor and improved the port. The two-story pavilion was moved and by 1936 was the center of beach activity and enjoyment.

Tourism took hold and in 1938, the Washington Daily News offered the following insight; "Panama City has destiny as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow."

In 1942, the Tyndall Field was constructed as a training center for new pilots. Meanwhile, the war department selected St. Andrews bay to built warships. Suddenly, the modest lumber and fishing village was a military base with airfield and warships. By 1960, Panama City, Florida, was a bustling tourist area with 30,000 residents.

As tourism grew, the Miracle Strip Amusement Park and 200 foot Observation Tower was built in the 60's. The park featured the amusement park and the well-known wooden Starliner roller coaster. The amusement park finally closed in 2004.

Today, there is beachside entertainment, shopping, condos, hotels and spectacular housing. A good time is had by all in the weather and on the beaches, just the way Gideon Thomas envisioned it when he decided to "grow people."BookIt.com is an online travel company determined and dedicated to becoming the leader in providing travelers with the most intuitive online booking experience full of relevant information, helpful guides and travel tips. Have you thought about a panama city beach motels vacation? Visit online today for more information on planning the vacation you'll remember forever.

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