Bay County Centennial 1913-2013
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Celebrate 100 years of Bay County
 

 

HISTORY OF BAY COUNTY BY MARLENE WOMACK

 

Development in this area began with Floriopolis, Park Resort and then Harrison, all early names for Panama City which was established in 1906 and incorporated in 1909.

 

Meanwhile, St. Andrews had its beginnings in the early 1800s but it was not incorporated until 1908; Millville was established in 1899 and incorporated in 1913, and Lynn Haven had its beginnings in 1911 and incorporated for the first time in 1913.

 

These four towns – Panama City, St. Andrews, Millville and Lynn Haven along with the smaller surrounding towns and communities existed under Washington County until 1913. Then legislators cut land from Washington and a portion of Calhoun counties to create Bay County on April 24, 1913. The celebration for the new Bay County took place on July 1, 1913.

 

Up next came the vote for the county seat. All four towns, Panama City, St. Andrews, Millville and Lynn Haven vied for Bay County’s seat of government. In 1914, voters selected Panama City because it “stood in the center of its citizenry within a four-mile circle where 60 percent of the county’s population resided at the time.” In addition, Panama City afforded access to land, water and rail with the termination of the Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railway, which came into Panama City on June 29, 1908.

 

Each of the above towns had its important moments. St. Andrews received its first settlers along the bay in the 1820s. The St. Andrews Bay Land Co. promoted St. Andrews in the late 1830s followed by the St. Andrews Bay Railroad, Land & Mining Co. in the late 1880s. The lack of a railroad and decent roads held back much of the anticipated growth, however.

 

When development came J.H. Drummond, the town’s mayor, built the 2.6 mile St. Andrews Bay Terminal Railroad in 1914. It ran west down 10th Street. At Frankford, the tracks Y’d with one section going to the St. Andrews Ice Plant and the other to the terminal on the bay near 12th Street, giving tourists ready access to the town. This spur hauled millions of pounds of fish which were sent to Panama City for shipment north on the Bay Line.

 

In the late 1800s, sawmill interests built the town of Millville along Watson Bayou. After the German American Lumber Co. acquired the St. Andrews Lumber Co., Millville boomed and eventually became the largest town and employer in Bay County. During WWI, the government designated Millville as the site for construction of eight three-masted schooner barges but only one was built before the war ended. It was named Millville.

 

Lynn Haven, an Old Soldier’s Colony, took its name from W.H. Lynn who along with A.J. Gay and R.L. McKenzie, formed the Gulf Coast Development Co. Lots were offered for $150 and included a five-acre plot outside of town. Lynn Haven experienced its ups and downs, but it is now the second largest city in Bay County.

 

Across the bay from Lynn Haven, the Sale-Davis Lumber Company’s logging railroad at Southport hooked up further north with the Birmingham, Columbus and St. Andrews Bay Railroad and ran its first train from Southport to Chipley in January 1912.

 

When R.L. McKenzie, G.M. West, A.B. Steele and A.J. Gay embarked on the venture of building a great seaport by the name of Panama City they expected shipments to and from the Panama Canal (which gave Panama City its name). Those from the north envisioned many businesses and factories, hotels, trolleys, and a beachside playground. Some even thought of a belt line railroad around the town that would connect shipments from surrounding factories, various fish docks, stores, sawmills, etc. much like Chicago and other big northern cities. Some of their plans materialized while others did not.

 

On May 30, 1907, G.M. West began publishing the weekly Panama City Pilot. The newspaper was published until 1941. It was replaced by what became the News Herald in 1937, which began as the Bay County Herald in 1931 and the St. Andrews Bay News in 1937.

 

In December 1910, two volunteer fire departments were formed, Company A and Company B. Until then people fought fires with a bucket brigade. Panama City’s police force was organized in 1912. Prior to that time, marshals, a sheriff and deputies took care of law and order.

 

Panama City High School opened on 7th Street and Harrison Avenue in 1914 but soon became Panama Grammar. Courthouse construction began that same year. It was completed in 1915. Before that time, court was held temporarily in a waterfront office on the long wooden city dock at the end of Harrison Avenue. The first session in the new courthouse took place on November 15, 1915. The new building stood majestically on a lofty height overlooking Watson Bayou, complete with its dome and chiming dome clocks. If they chose to, people could arrive at the courthouse by boat.

 

In 1919, under Chapter 7808, No. 28, the Florida State Legislature passed the compulsory education act of all children between the ages of seven and sixteen years with a number of exceptions.

 

Prohibition began with the 18th Amendment, and the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote.

 

Then on November 18, 1920, two friends of jailed inmates torched the courthouse so they could be free men. But Sheriff Carl Russ corralled the inmates and kept them under guard. The courthouse was rebuilt with a new dome and clock so people attending court would always know the correct time. It reopened in February 1922. (This courthouse remains as one of the few original courthouses in the state).

 

On February 12, 1921, aging Union veterans of the Civil War dedicated their statue of a Union soldier “always facing north” in Lynn Haven. A number of years later, the city changed the monument to reflect a soldier of all wars.

 

While excavating for sewers along Harrison Avenue and old cannon ball was found dating back to the Civil War when people came to the bay to make salt and federal troops bombarded their salt works and searched the bay for blockade runners.

 

During World War I, young men formed Company M and were sent to Camp Wheeler, GA. The draft board offered 1,200 draftees. Residents of Bay County did their part buying Liberty Bonds and serving in the Red Cross.

 

The cities increases in population but Harrison Avenue remained the main thoroughfare in Panama City. It extended further north with new stores and businesses past Bay High School which opened in 1926.

 

Early that year the first talk of consolidation was whispered among some residents in town. Legislators and town officials knew that in order for Panama City to grow, St. Andrews and Millville needed to become part of the county seat. The consolidation bill became effective on March 12, 1926 and catapulted St. Andrews and Millville into an uproar that went on for years, but the change remained.

 

In 1926 the city built its new City Hall and Police Department on 4th Street and Luverne Avenue. The pink, stuccoed, two-story Cove Hotel with 50 units opened in May 1926 on Cherry Street. In 1927, the high-rise Dixie Sherman was completed at the northeast corner of 5th Street and Jenks Avenue. Its roof garden stood atop the hotel’s eight stories. That same year Bob Jones College opened in Lynn Haven at College Point.

 

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.

 

By 1930, most of this area’s huge forests that once covered the land were gone with no plans for reforestation. Southern Kraft, a subsidiary of the International Co., began construction of its first paper mill in Florida at Bay Harbor. After the mill opened, exports in Bay County soared from a low of $24,700 in 1930 to $204,323 in 1932.

 

The increase in exports caught the attention of the Chief of Army Engineers who recommended improvements to St. Andrew Bay. The New Pass into the bay across from Panama City held its formal opening in November 1934. The 29-foot-deep and 450-foot-wide New Pass came about as a result of the Great Depression and the Public Works Association.

 

In 1935, the Phillips Inlet Bridge was completed opening the remainder of the Coastal Highway (US 98). That same year, Panama City and nearby areas were blanketed in snow.

 

On September 1, 1937, the 130-foot steamer Tarpon, which had plied this section of the Gulf Coast since the early 1900s, sank off Panama City Beach.

 

Progress came to Panama City in March 1938 with a new bay front park and dock at the southern end of Harrison Avenue.

 

WDLP, the first radio station, went on the air March 21, 1940. Dr. A.H. Lisenby built his new hospital on 11th Street that year.

 

Word soon came that officials were in Panama City looking for a site for a flexible gunnery school. They selected the 18-mile long East Peninsula that encompassed 25,734 acres and included the communities of Cromanton, San Blas, Redfish Point, Auburn and Farmdale.

 

On June 13, 1941 the War Department approved naming of the new gunnery school as Tyndall Field, for Frank B. Tyndall, one of four Florida flyers rated an Ace during WWI. Occupants of the peninsula were told they had until July 7, 1941 to vacate their homes forever and turn in their keys at the gate.

 

Troops began moving in, some of them staying at the Recreation Camp on Watson Bayou and others in cabins on Beacon Beach until modern brick and stucco barracks, administration buildings, Quartermaster warehouses, day rooms, recreation halls, supply rooms, mess halls and a chapel could be built.

 

On December 7, 1941 – “the day of infamy” – radios blared, informing listeners of the attack on Pearl Harbor. High School students and many others rushed to enlist in the upstairs of the old post office on 5th Street and Jenks Avenue.

 

Wainwright Shipyard opened on April 12, 1942 near the east side of the Hathaway Bridge. It produced 102 Liberty ships and six tankers. That same year, the 373-acre Naval Section Base was established on the west side of the bay near the Hathaway Bridge across from Wainwright Shipyard. Civil Air Patrol #14 was transferred from Ohio to Panama City to patrol the Gulf of Mexico looking for enemy submarines and other identified ships. Patrols on horses with dogs also patrolled the beaches looking for suspicious activity.

 

On January 6, 1943, Clark Gable graduated from flight school on Tyndall Field and earned his silver wings.

 

During World War II, the Bay Line handled up to 13 trains each day, with some of them 100 cars long, transporting materials needed by Tyndall Field, Wainwright Shipyard, the Navy base and the paper mill. Hundreds of men and women connecting with the military installations arrived and departed the Bay Line Depot each week.

 

In 1945, World War II ended, and Tyndall Field became a permanent base. The Navy Base closed – then a short time later was reactivated as a permanent military base.

 

In June 1946, John and Opal Reaver opened Skyland Airfield at the northeast corner of 11th Street and Balboa Avenue. Three months later National Airlines landed its first 14 passenger Lockheed Lodestar at Panama City’s new airfield. On March 13, 1949, Governor Fuller Warren dedicated the new airport as Fannin Field.

 

Well-known Hawk (Narcisco) Massalina, a former resident of Redfish Point, died on February 2, 1948 and was buried in Redwood Cemetery. He was reported to be 108 years old.

 

After years of controversy, Florida finally closed its “open range,” in 1949. Until then, cattle and other animals were permitted to roam the land. A number of crashes occurred especially at night as some cattle slept on the warmer highways.

 

On June 1, 1949, Bay Memorial Hospital (a county hospital) opened on Bonita Avenue at the outskirts of town, near the soldiers’ recreation camp that overlooked Watson Bayou. Gulf Coast Community Hospital opened its doors in 1976 on 23rd Street and State Avenue.

 

In 1952, legislators Jack Mashburn and J. Ed Stokes established six municipalities on Panama City Beach. They were A.W. Pledger’s Panama City Beach, J.E. Churchwell’s Long Beach, M.C. Buckley’s Edgewater Gulf Beach, C.F. Stiles Dutchville, Playville and Julia. West Panama Beach followed at the end of that decade, and the City of Panama City Beach in 1970.

 

Bay County also had several smaller towns. Even though the Callaway post office opened in 1903, Callaway was not incorporated until November 18, 1953. Parker, which had its beginnings as Austerlitz from 1820-1835, opened its post office in 1886, but was not incorporated until July 1967. Cedar Grove was incorporated on May 1, 1951, and on September 30, 2008, residents voted for the town to become part of Bay County. Cedar Grove’s closing actually took place on January 1, 2009. Springfield was incorporated on February 26, 1935.

 

Legendary M.J. Doc Daffin was elected Bay County Sheriff in 1953. In 1961, he was removed from office. Two years later residents voted him back in as sheriff, and he remained in office until he died in 1971.

 

In December 1953, J.D. Manley built the first television station in Panama City, WJDM. Gulf Coast Junior College began classes in the old shipyard buildings in 1957. A year later, Rosenwald Junior College opened. Another of the infrequent snow falls blanketed the area on February 13, 1958.

 

The new Panama City Marina was completed, extending Harrison Avenue 1,200 feet into the bay, in the summer of 1959. The St. Andrews Marina opened circa 1960.

 

In 1963 the landmark Clarence Earl Gideon case took place at the courthouse, which guaranteed him the right to legal counsel. Deer Point Lake opened that same year on March 30, 1963.

 

Panama City got its new long-awaited Municipal Auditorium (Civic Center) in 1965.

 

Gulf Coast Junior College merged with Rosenwald Junior College in 1966.

 

In May 1967 the new Bay County Public Library opened on the new marina. In 1967 and 1968, Bay County endured the teachers’ walk outs and strikes.

 

The University of West Florida’s PC branch campus began classes in the old shipyard buildings in 1972. Florida State University at Panama City replaced UWF in 1987.

 

In October 1973, WDTB began broadcasting TV programs for NBC on Channel 13. Four years later, WDTB Channel 13 changed its name to WMBB (World’s Most Beautiful Beaches). WJHG-TV became an NBC affiliate in 1982. WMBB-TV became associated with ABC.

 

The St. Joe Company made plans to develop its “Pier Park” at the beginning of the new century.

 

2001 – First Fridays grew in popularity in downtown Panama City.

 

2004 – The Destroyer Momsen sailed into the bay for its commissioning by the U.S. Navy.

 

2007 – The new Juvenile Justice Courthouse opened on 11th Street.

 

2008 – The U.S. Navy commissioned the Mesa Verde. In the spring of 2008, Bay County opened its new ultra-modern library on 11th Street. The adjoining Bay County Government Center soon followed.

 

On January 2, 2009, Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons proclaimed Panama City’s Centennial Celebration.

 

The Beaches International Airport opened in West Bay, near Panama City and Panama City Beach on May 23, 2010.

 

In 2011 The City of Lynn Haven celebrated the centennial of its founding.

 

In 2013, Bay County celebrated its 100th anniversary.

 

 

 

contact info

 

Bay County Centennial Committee

PO Box 1476
Panama City, FL 32402
850-248-8277 phone

 

 

 

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