For millennia, Native Americans thrived in the area that is now Panama City. The first permanent settlement by those of European descent was established in 1827. The area grew as a center for salt production, fishing, sawmills, boat building, and its healthful “sea baths” that drew numerous visitors. The rise of the City is quite a tale with hints of its beginning sprinkled throughout the area.
In 2000, the Florida Department of State recognized George Mortimer West as a “Great Floridian”, one of 30 in the state. Like Panama City, Mr. West was an eclectic mix of artistry, ecology, and business. He was a writer, promoter, economist, horticulturist, publisher, entrepreneur, and as the history reveals – a visionary. Known as a “founding father” of Panama City, George M. West helped organize the Gulf Coast Development Company, which in 1905 purchased the land known today as Downtown Panama City.
The City of Panama City, as we know it today, was formed in the early 1900s by the incorporation of the smaller communities of St. Andrews, Millville, Harrison, and Floriopolis. George M. West, along with A.B. Stelle (founder of the Bayline Railroad) and other members of the town’s leadership decided on “Panama City” as the name for the new community. The name, they hoped, would spur real estate development and international expansion trade as it was the closest developed US port to the Panama Canal, which was being built in Central America at the time.
African Americans have contributed deeply to Panama City’s cultural heritage throughout the city’s history. Even during the Black Diaspora, when many African Americans were fleeing other sections of the South, many African Americans chose to stay in the community. At the same time, a number of other black families arrived to Bay County from other Southern states.
Even before the Civil War, a thriving community of free blacks, led by Jose and Narcisco Massilina, settled around Massilina Bayou. During Reconstruction and throughout the 20th century, the Glenwood area was dominated by the presence of the still active Rosenwald School. It became the cultural epicenter for African American culture in Bay County. African American leaders took the initiative to form progressive institutions, such as the Glenwood Improvement League. These institutions, and similar programs, furthermore bettered the lives of and increasing opportunities for community members.
Today, our legacy and evolution is evident throughout the community. Panama City is known for our numerous commercial and recreational fishing vessels, sight-seeing boat tours, ever-expanding colleges and universities, thriving shipbuilding and paper mill industries, local chefs still harvesting the natural sea salts, authentic retail entrepreneurs, and the bustling Port of Panama City. Bordered by Tyndall Air Force Base and the Naval Activities Support Base, Panama City is a uniquely cultural mix of the arts, music, ecotourism, and technology.
We invite you to explore Panama City. Experience the nuances of the four historic neighborhoods of St. Andrews, Millville, Glenwood, and Downtown Panama City as well as the retail corridors you can find along 23rd Street and US Highway 98. Regardless of where your journey takes you, there is something for everyone in Panama City!
Learn more about our history by enjoying our historic walking trails. Two self-guided trails in Historic St. Andrews and Downtown Panama City expand upon local history, as well as the future of our community.
Check out the Bay County Historical Society Museum and the Panama City Publishing Museum for more information about Panama City.
Destination Panama City
101 West Beach Drive
Panama City, FL 32401