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November 1, 2013

The Junior League of Panama City


Founded in 1952, the Junior Service Leaugue of Panama City is non-profit service organization. Today it is known simply as the Junior League of Panama City. Its purpose is to build interest in the social, economic, educational, cultural and civic issues in Bay County. They also provide an opportunity for members to serve their community through the donation of volunteer hours for the benefit of their community. One of the League’s first projects was the establishment of the Child Service Center through which needy children are provided clothing. Over the years, these women have clothed over 30,000 children. The League has also played a vital part in the creation of programs to provide hearing tests for students in public schools. They played an active role in the creation of the Junior Museum and the Visual Arts Center as well as the preservation of McKenzie House.

An early fundraiser for their causes was the Charity Ball first held in 1961 at the Armory. It was discontinued in 1980. The Whale of a Sale, a giant thrift sale, was held each year between 1977 and 1988. The following year, they launched one of their most successful fundraisers. Holly Fair ushers in the holiday season for Bay County. Having outgrown numerous venues around the county, the event has most recently been presented on Panama City Beach. Visitors come from over the Panhandle to shop from the latest and most fashionable gifts and mimic the lavish decorations. In addition to events, the League has published three cookbooks and the ever popular pictorial history, Along the Bay, by Marlene Womack. They continue to fund the Child Service Center, the Happy Hanger, and are always ready to meet the needs of Bay County.





November 1, 2013

The Panama City Jaycees


Jaycees (United States Junior Chamber of Commerce) was established in 1920 as a civic and leadership training organization for individuals between the ages of 18 and 40. In 1984, its membership was opened to both men and women. Today there are over 25,000 members throughout the states. Jaycees is also now an international organization. It provides members with skills in the area of leadership, business, management, personal development and an opportunity for community service. Its founder, Henry Giessenbier Jr. stated, “We have definitely launched a great institution into the world of progress.”

Locally the Jaycees were founded in 1946, but really came of age during the 70s when they were recognized as the second largest chapter in the United States. Once again the chapter is pushing to the top having won the best Jaycee Haunted House for the last five years straight. The funds from this Halloween extravaganza go right back into the community through their two major projects; Boys and Girls Club of Bay County and the Panama City Marine institute. Jaycees estimate that they have been able to provide over $50,000 to assist in the operation of P.C.M.I. The local Junior Miss Pageant was once presented by Jaycees during their most active years and the local chapter has hopes of reviving the popular competition. Here in Bay County the Christmas parade has been sponsored by the Jaycees for over 70 years. Entrance fees from the participants and donations made by parade viewers along the route provide toys for needy children. In conjunction with their mission to develop leadership organizational skills, each and every project is planned in detail and evaluated at its conclusion. Jaycees represent a unique blend of self-improvement and community service.





November 1, 2013

The Rotary Club


This now international group was founded in 1905 by four businessmen who wanted to create an organization where professional men could meet and enjoy the friendly spirit of small town America. When Paul Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele and Hiram Shorey met at the Unity Building in mid-town Chicago, it marked the first Rotary Club meeting. The group called their club Rotary because they would rotate meeting places. Clubs began to form all across the country and they held their first convention in 1910. Two years later, their name was changed to the International Association of Rotary Clubs to denote the addition of clubs in other countries. By 1925, there were over 2,000 clubs throughout the world. Today there are 1.2 million Rotarians in 34,000 clubs. During the Depression years, Herbert J. Taylor developed the Four-Way test to be used to evaluate what members think, say or do. It was adopted as the standard of ethics for Rotarians in 1942. Their motto expresses their commitment of service to their fellow man: Service Above Self. Rotary Clubs meet weekly and encourage members when in another city to seek out the local club and attend a meeting thus promoting their concept of fellowship. Programs consistently inform members of other organizations in the area and their mission. When Rotary Clubs see an opportunity to assist such groups and through that assistance benefit others, they are quick to act.

Four Rotary Clubs function in Bay County with the downtown Panama City club being the oldest and largest. The Lynn Haven Rotary was organized in 1972 and Dick Adams served as its first president. In 1991, the Rotary Club Panama City Northside was organized. In spite of its small size, only 35 members, this club recently endowed scholarships in memory of three local students whose lives were cut short by tragic accidents. The Panama City Beach Rotary Club provides an opportunity for membership in the growing area of the county. Through their ‘Grills Gone Wild’ event, they raised over $ 25,000 to be divided among 22 local charities. On any given weekend, they provide a food backpack for some 160 children who might otherwise go hungry over the weekend when school meals are not available. In addition to a vast program of assistance in Bay County, clubs here work for world peace and understanding through participation in international projects as well.





November 1, 2013

Woman's Literary Society of Lynn Haven


One such group was the Women’s Literary Society of Lynn Haven. As pioneers in a new community, they felt “a need to keep in touch with the outer world”. With that in mind, a group of fourteen women met on November 8, 1911 at the home of Mrs. Fannie Wicks and organized the Lynn Haven Literary Society, which later became the Lynn Haven Literary Club. The society met each Wednesday in private homes around the town. Their stated goal was “mutual improvement and the starting of a fund for a library”. Members paid dues of fifty cents and contributed three cents at each meeting. All women of the community were invited to attend even if they were not members. In May 1912, the ladies discussed what an individual could do for the advancement of Lynn Haven. According to the Lynn Haven Tribune, numerous suggestions were made such as keeping wild hogs and cattle off the streets, but Mrs. Mary McLaughlin suggested “saying something good for the town and everybody in it on all occasions”. By October of that year, they had raised $21.00 with which to buy books and further their efforts to establish a library. In November of 1913, they were given permission by W.H. Lynn to have use of a room at the back of the Lynn Haven bank building for their library and reading room. The society secured the services of Miss Mildred Hanford as librarian on three afternoons each week. It is interesting to note that the first public library in the county was established in Lynn Haven under the auspices of the Woman’s Literary Society. In January of 1922, the family of Mrs. Elizabeth King McMullen gave a small building to be used as a Library and clubhouse for the women. In 1925, the Literary Club joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. They continued to support the library although in 1959 it was incorporated into the regional system. Inactive during the war years, the women were back at work in 1946 organizing hobby programs, book drives for schools and sponsoring scout troops for boys and girls and supporting the organization of a Garden Club. By the late fifties, the organization’s membership and activities dropped with the passing of many longtime members and the lack of new members.





October 1, 2013

Bay County School Board Shooting


On December 14, 2010 Clay A. Duke opened fire on School Board members during a regular meeting in a bizarre twist of events. No one was injured before Duke fatally shot himself after exchanging gun fire with Bay County School District Security Chief Mike Jones. Toward the end of the meeting, Duke calmly walked toward the podium, stopped to spray paint a big red V with a circle around it on the wall and then brandished a hand gun. The scene unfolded as Duke ordered everyone but the male board members out of the room. He told them he was upset about sales tax and the apparent firing of his wife from the school district. A back and forth discussion ensued during which time he said that someone was going to die on this day. Ultimately, that someone was Duke, wounded by Mike Jones, but killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.

This made national news and major news outlets such as ABC, CBS, MSNBC, FOX and CNN camped out in front of the School Board building on Balboa Avenue for days afterwards.

Fired at by Duke at point blank range, school board members miraculously escaped death and attribute their survival to God’s intervention.





October 1, 2013

Early Education in Bay County


In the publication Educational directory of the State of Florida 1915-16 we find information about Bay County Schools at that time. The Superintendent of Schools was E. L. Brigman and School Board members were Allen H. Miller, R. D. Murray and W. B Merritt.

There were 47 schools in Bay County to take care of students across the county and in many rural areas. All of these schools were listed with monthly salaries for principals and teachers ranging from $25.00 to $100.00. The number of pupils in each school were also listed and ranged from 9 at Murfee to 305 at Millville. Schools included Millville, St. Andrews, Sulphur Springs, Parker, Nixon, Southport, West Bay, Woodland, Sweetwater, Lynn Haven, Allanton, Panama City, Murfee, Fountain, Grand Lagoon, Youngstown, Econfina, Cook, Vinson, Laird Still, Mooretown, Callaway, Cedar Creek, Cromanton, San Blas, Auburn, Bellisle, Farmdale, East Murfee, Hagen, Tompkins, Sulphur Point, Wetappo, Mill Bayou, Pine Flat, Anderson, Island Pond, Bay Harbor No. 2, St. Andrews No. 2, Shine Town, Sweetwater No. 2, Hagen No. 2, Millville No. 2, Gainer, Bellisle No. 2, Brown Still and Saunders.





October 1, 2013

Gideon Thomas' Vision for Panama City Beach Comes True


Before modern settlement began in the 1800s, the St. Andrews Bay area was inhabited by Native Americans. Spanish explorers and pirates soon discovered the area and began exploring this part of the gulf coast. By the 1800s many people came to spend the summers along the bay, but there were also a growing number who settled here. Once the first Hathaway bridge was completed in 1929 and coastal highway construction began, the beach became accessible and began its interesting journey of becoming one of the South’s most popular tourist destinations.

In 1935, developer Gideon Thomas built the Panama City Beach Hotel located near today’s Sunbird Condominiums and Pineapple Willy’s. He saw great potential in the beaches for tourism development during a time when most people were worried with basic survival. Constantly hearing that there was no future in all that white sand, he would reply that he wasn’t trying to grow vegetables……he was trying to grow people. His perseverance paid off and the beach area soon became a favorite travel destination for vacationers. In the 1930s and 40s the beach was known for an attraction called “The Hangout” that was eventually destroyed by Hurricane Eloise in 1975.

From St. Andrews State Park to Long Beach to Petticoat Junction, Shipwreck Island, Pier Park and on, Panama City Beach continues to evolve and change. The early days catered to the local, small, family-owned and operated hotels, motels and cottages. During the 70s and 80s the tourism industry continued to develop with new and more modern hotels and condominiums. Today it has become a year round premiere destination for millions of visitors from all over the world.

To meet the growing demand to attract tourists, a Bed Tax Referendum was passed in 1986 and the Bay County Tourist Development Council was formed. In 1998, the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau was formed, and contracted with the TDC to perform tourism promotion, which remains the same today. The CVB has worked through the leadership of the Board of Directors to market Panama City Beach as a resort destination and their efforts have paid off with new development of hotels, condominiums, restaurants, retail stores and year round events.





October 1, 2013

Gulf Pavilion


A long wooden pier and boardwalk led visitors to the 2 story wooden Gulf Beach Pavilion at Lands End (now the east end of Shell Island). They arrived by boat on the bay side and walked across the sand dunes to the Gulf side. As tourists walked on the walkway, wild hogs roamed the sand dunes. You can see a wild hog in the picture. The spot where the pavilion was located is now under water.





October 1, 2013

Hello Bay County


The telephone dial system went into effect for our area June 17, 1950. The famous rotary Model 500 telephone was introduced by A T & T in 1949. In the Panama City News Herald we find an article that says at midnight on Saturday June 17, 1950 the new system for Panama City went into effect. The Southern Bell Telephone Company moved into their beautiful new building at the corner of Magnolia and Fifth Street on June 10, 1950. New telephone directories were distributed a few weeks earlier. Directions for the dial system were on page four of the new telephone directory and are shown below.

“How to Dial a Number”

When you hear the dial tone, dial each figure in the telephone number you wish to call as follows: place your finger in the opening over the first figure of the number, turn the dial around until your finger strikes the finger stop, then remove your finger, and without touching the dial, allow it to return to its normal position. Proceed in the same way to dial the other figures in the number.

If your finger slips, or you make a mistake, hang up the receiver, wait a few seconds for the dial tone and dial again. Before dialing a second call, always hang up the receiver for a few seconds to clear the line.





October 1, 2013

Pioneer Picnic Becomes a Tradition


Bay County has celebrated with a Pioneer Picnic since 1940. From 1940 to 1955 these picnics were held at the home of Judge Ira Hutchison. The original organization responsible for hosting the picnic each year was the Old Pioneers of St. Andrews Bay. Later on the Historical Society of Bay County ( took the responsibility of hosting these events.

In 2008 the Bay County Genealogy Society ( joined with the Historical Society and started the First Families of Bay County program. The 2013 Picnic was the 72d event held. From 2008 to 2013 the two Societies have recognized 48 pioneers, 33 researchers and 121 descendants honoring families who settled in the area that became Bay County 24 April 1913.

The picnic honors those who have lived in Bay County for over 50 years and their descendants. It is open to all who are interested in the history of Bay County, The Society provides the meat, tea and paper products and everyone is asked to bring a covered dish to share (vegetable, salad or desert).

Group photo of attendees who have been in Bay County for 50 years or more. This picnic was held at Oakland Terrace School June 1, 2002. Photo by Steve Wallace.

In the picture are Alfred Mixon; Tom Bingham; James A. Sowell; Etta Sowell; Mamie Goines; Edith Thorne; Norman McClenny; Pearl Lamonica; Gordon McCall; Phyllis K. Jencks; Bobby Hurst; Ann Robbins; Becky Brown Saunders; Frances Allan; Betty DiDomenico; John Hentz; Sarah Haney; Lorraine Robertson; Dot Wallace; Herbert Robertson; James R. Brookins; Sarah Sapp; Hinton Sapp; Nancy Pharis; Richard Post; Joyce Post; Jan Allan Flint; Bubba Ware; Brenda Martin; Bobby Connor; Gus Hutchinson; Henry Wallace; Clare Nell Miller; Lucille Hargrove; Bob McKenzie; Mary Ola Miller; Maxwell Miller; Clarence R. Reese; Steve Wilson; Sandra Adams Wilson; Lennie Wilson; Floy Anne McKenzie; Allan Bense; Joe Edd Davis; Beth Byrd McKeithan; Bill McKeithan; Ann Cook Humphreys; Lynn Smith; Larry G. Smith; Barbara Laird Mulligan and Mary Walsh.





October 1, 2013

Salt Works and the Civil War


Determined Southern men and women from 1861-1865 struggled to produce salt for the Confederacy, which was a precious necessity of the time. Wiregrass flats that surrounded St. Andrews Bay were choice locations for distilling salt water and St. Andrews Bay Salt Works was one of the largest producers of salt in the south. This area contributed to the Confederacy by providing salt, fish and cattle. Used as a food preservative, it sold for as much as $50 a bushel and was produced in wood-fired salt works on the edge of West Bay, East Bay, North Bay and Lake Powell. The salt was moved to Eufala, Alabama and then on to Montgomery where it was distributed throughout the Confederate States.

Recognizing the advantage that salt gave to the Confederacy, Union soldiers began a series of attacks against the Confederate home guards which resulted in the destruction of more than 290 salt works valued at more than $3,000,000. Undeterred, the St. Andrews Bay Salt Work employees quickly rebuilt and continued operating them until February 1865.

In 2003 members of 1st Lt. Thomas H. Gainer Camp 1319 Sons of Confederate Veterans placed a Florida Salt Works historic marker on the shore of Lake Caroline in Asbell Park on West Beach Drive. Also at this site is a salt kettle that was placed by the Historical Society of Bay County 23 June 1976.

In the picture you can see both the Historic Marker and the salt kettle.





October 1, 2013

The Tastee-Freez Brings Smiles to Old and Young


In the 1960''s the Tastee-Freez came to St. Andrews. It was located at 1316 Beck Avenue and was owned by Mrs. Robert Elder. You could order a hamburger for $.15 and many remember cooling off with a nice cold ice cream cone.





October 1, 2013

Tragedy Follows the Wilcox Family


According to an article written by Ken Brooks on February 28, 2008, the stars were aligned against the Wilcox family when the first person to die as the result of an airplane crash in Bay County was the son of the first man to die as the result of an automobile accident in Bay County.

Mitchell Wilcox, 27 years old was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed to the ground at the airport. This was Bay County’s first fatal air crash. Just 25 years earlier, Mitchell’s father R.W. Wilcox was killed when he was hit by a car, making him Bay County’s first car accident fatality. According to R.W. Wilcox’s other son Rod, his father was just crossing the street when he was hit by the “first dang car in the county – a Star car” driven by a local doctor who was so affected by the accident that from that point on he made his rounds on horseback. Rod Wilcox also boasted that his father had been a shipbuilder and the “best dang fiddler” in the county. He also spoke of his brother’s passion for flying and how when Mitchell had told their mother he was going to learn to fly, she told him that would be his undoing. Unfortunately, she was right and heartbreak would fall upon their family for the second time.





October 1, 2013

William Tell Competition in the Skies Over Tyndall AFB


Officially designated the “USAF Air to Air Weapons Meet” William Tell was first held at the Yuma County Airport in Arizona in 1954 as part of the USAF Fighter Gunnery and Weapons Meet. In 1958 it moved to Tyndall Air Force Base where it became the USAF Worldwide Air-to-Air Weapons Meet. The William Tell competition tests the skill, strength and courage of pilots and their crews. Its purpose is to have aircrews perform under simulated combat conditions in order to test the proficiency of the air-to-air combat organization and make the world aware of its air dominance, readiness and capability. The last competition was held in 2004, which marked the 50 year anniversary of William Tell. The competition is named after the legendary Swiss archer, and was a biennial competition that set the stage for the most challenging air-to-air scenarios. It was originally for units of Air Defense Command but was eventually expanded to incorporate air defense units from other commands, the Air National Guard as well as Canada. The naming of the overall winner began in 1980 and in 1996 the teams stopped competing as units but instead represented their various commands, such as Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and foreign air forces. Throughout its history, certain competitions were put on hold due to military action in the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and the continuing Global War on Terror.





September 11, 2013

Senator John McCain Visits Bay County Again and Again


In the most recent presidential campaign, Senator John McCain-R, addressed residents of Panama City on October 2, 2012 at a gathering at G. Foley''s Restaurant on 23rd Street. McCain was on a bus tour across Florida to stump for Governor Mitt Romney''s bid for the White House. Barak Obama would go on to defeat Romney in the November election.

In 2008, Senator McCain visited Bay County on August 1st when his Straight Talk Air jet landed at about 2:20pm. The Senator and his wife were accompanied by Governor Charlie Crist and his fiancee Carol Rome. After greeting State Representatives Jimmy Patronis and Marty Coley, Gov. Crist and Ms. Rome joined Senator and Mrs. McCain on the Straight Talk Express. A motorcade of 12 SUVs followed them to the Bay Point Marriott for a press conference. Later that afternoon, the motorcade headed to the Panama City Marina for a free concert and rally. John Rich of the country duo Big and Rich debuted his song "Raisin McCain" and the Senator made some remarks, mingled with the crowd and headed back to the airport. McCain would go on to get the Republican nomination for President, but would be defeated by Barak Obama in November 2008.

And on August 10, 2004 Senator McCain accompanied President George W. Bush, who was seeking re-election, to the Panama City Civic Center on a bus tour from Pensacola. During the President''s evening speech, he recognized McCain by saying how proud he was to be traveling with him and said what a fantastic American John McCain is.





September 3, 2013

Astronaut John Glenn Visits Bay County


American hero John Glenn had a stellar visit to Bay County on May 8, 2002. The former astronaut and U. S. Senator and his wife Annie visited Panama City as a guest of Peoples First Community Bank. Senator Glenn was the first man to orbit Earth three times. He spoke at the bank’s “Tribute to Teachers” on Tuesday night as a speaker. On Wednesday May 9th he spoke to students and community members at the Bay High School gymnasium. Panama City Mayor Gerry Clemons gave Glenn the key to the city. School Superintendent James McCalister said we were lucky and fortunate to have such an American hero here. John Glenn was 80 years old when he visited here and had made his most recent journey to outer space in 1998.





September 3, 2013

Edith Kermit Roosevlet Winters in Bay County


In December of 1936, the St. Andrews Bay News reported that Edith Kermit Roosevelt, wife of the late President Theodore Roosevelt, would soon be moving to St. Andrews for a few months. The former first Lady had seen a photograph of a home in St. Andrews called Magnolia Manor, at the foot of Grant Avenue. She liked what she saw in the photograph and decided to rent the home from January to April 1937 to get away from the cold northern winters. In the Theodore Roosevelt collection at Harvard University are numerous letters written on stationary with the letterhead, Magnolia Manor, St. Andrews, Florida. In addition to these letters are diary entries from her diaries written while she was here.

The staff members of the tornado Whirl (Bay County High School) had the rare pleasure of visiting Mrs. Roosevelt. She entertained the students with an informal tea from 5 o’clock to 5:30 o’clock. When the party arrived, they were introduced to Mrs. Roosevelt by Maggie Fleming, copy editor of the Whirl, who had already had the opportunity of interviewing the charming lady. In the dining room the students were served tea and fancy cakes and candies. They had the opportunity to ask any questions of Mrs. Roosevelt. Those who enjoyed the delightful event were the faculty advisor, Mr. Thomas Smith, editor-in-chief Sam Cox, Maggie Fleming, Emmett Robinson, Katherine Hobbs, Robert Fleming, Hazel McLain, May Bell Varlin, Mary Ellen Russell, Coe Wallace, Alma Gowan and Ellen Boggs.





September 3, 2013

George Wallace Campaigns in Bay County for President


Not until 1952 and 1956 did any presidential candidates ever visit Bay County, and another long span passed before they made it back again. Needless to say, it was big news in 1972 when Democratic Presidential hopefuls arrived in Bay County to ask for votes. It was Florida''s first binding presidential primary that would help decide who would face off against Richard Nixon that November.

The field of candidates included George Wallace, Henry Jackson, Shirley Chisolm, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern and John Lindsay. Only McGovern failed to campaign here. Identified as the front-runner in Florida, George Wallace arrived on February 4, 1972 to speak at Panama City''s Municipal Auditorium to a standing-room only crowd of 4,000 who listened to his energetic messages about law and order, and anti-busing.

His campaigning paid off on March 14 election night when he garnered 66% of the vote in Bay County.

Pictured is George Wallace shaking hands with County Commissioner Pete Edwards.





September 3, 2013

Marina Oswald Honeymoons in Panama City Beach


Marina Oswald, widow of President Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, spent five days in June 1965 at our local beaches. She and her new husband Kenneth J. Porter, who married two weeks before, were apparently here on their honeymoon. Efforts to arrange an interview were futile. Information from an article in the Panama City News Herald June 13, 1965 page 14.





September 3, 2013

Mrs. Houdini Spends the Night at the Dixie Sherman Hotel


Mrs. Beatrice Houdini , widow of the famed magician, spent the night of February 7, 1937 at the Dixie Sherman Hotel in Panama City. She was in route to her home in Hollywood after a Florida vacation. She was accompanied by Dr. Edwin Saint and M. G. Myers, both of Hollywood. A striking figure with snow white hair, Mrs. Houdini remains incognito as much as possible because she says too many people want to talk about ghosts and spirits both of which she asserts “just don’t exist except in the minds of people who want to believe.”

For years she had been ghost hunting throughout the world but found none was real, explaining that no one ever took advantage of an offer of $10,000 by Harry Houdini, her husband, if he could not duplicate any spiritual phenomenon. After her famous Halloween experiment in Hollywood, when she made a last final effort to communicate with her late husband’s spirit, she abandoned all attempts to contact the spirit world. She then turned out the light over her husband’s photograph, burning for 10 years, and is now trying to forget about it.

Mrs. Houdini arrived in Panama City on the evening of February 7 and left immediately following an early breakfast the next morning.

But the Houdini family connection to Bay County doesn’t end here. On January 29, 1938, Harry Houdini’s brother Theo performed live at the Ritz Theater on Harrison Avenue. Billed as the Great Hardeen, it was his desire to carry on the feats of his brother in order to keep his memory alive.

Hardeen headlined the biggest show ever seen in this area, boasting a Broadway style review with over 40 cast members, 15 big scenes, and burlesque type girls. Due to the risqué nature of the show, it didn’t begin until 11pm. In the depth of the great depression, the 35 cent ticket price was steep, but the tickets still sold because of the Houdini name.

The highlight of Hardeen’s performance at the Ritz was his brother’s claim to fame…..escaping from a strait-jacket while in full view of the audience. Typical of Hardeen, however, he chose an easy laugh by bungling the escape, rather than the flare and awe his brother’s performances had created over the years. By the early 1940s, Theo Houdini’s health had deteriorated so that he could no longer perform. His Northwest Florida tour ended up being one of his last.





September 3, 2013

Paul Harvey Broadcasts in Bay County


Syndicated radio broadcaster and commentator Paul Harvey swapped ''Fish Stories'' with Elbert DuKate, owner of WPCF Radio Station, in 1962. Harvey originated several of his nationally renowned programs from WPCF''s local studios. He posed for a photo on Panama City Beach in the 1970s with J.E. Churchwell and Miss Long Beach Marie Savage.





September 3, 2013

President George W. Bush Visits Panama City


On August 10, 2004 President George W. Bush visited Panama City as part of his day-long blitz though Florida’s Panhandle. Thousands of people flooded onto the Panama City Marina, many covered with umbrellas and raincoats. The rain cleared shortly before the President’s arrival about 5:30pm.

A pre-program included speeches by Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, Attorney General Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Official Tom Gallagher and Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson. Country music singer Aaron Tipppin also performed two sets.

Organizers expected as many as 10,000 people to show up to hear the President. Everyone was required to have a ticket in order to attend. Security for the event was tight and parking was at a premium. Event organizers encouraged attendees to arrive early, car pool or walk from home if they lived close by.

Former U. S. Rep. J. C. Watts emceed the event and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona introduced Gov. Jeb Bush who in turn introduced his brother, the President.

Bush departed on Air Force One from Tyndall Air Force Base.





September 3, 2013

President Obama and family vacations in Panama City Beach


Arriving on Saturday August 14, 2010 at Tyndall Air Force Base and staying for just 27 hours, this is the first time that a sitting President has stayed overnight in Panama City Beach. Half business and half pleasure, the President arrived at 11a.m. with his wife Michelle and daughter Sasha (older daughter Malia was at summer camp). After greeting and thanking Air Force personnel at Tyndall, the Obama family boarded Marine One for a short flight to the Navy Support Activity Panama City base where they were greeted by base personnel and Navy Secretary Ray Maybus. Minutes later they headed to the adjacent Coast Guard Station where they joined Gov. Charlie Crist, Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons, Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst, Legacy by the Sea Resort manager Lee Ann Leonard, charter boat Capt. Gary Jarvis, and restaurant owner Carolyn Holman to discuss economic recovery along the Gulf Coast region after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. President Obama said, "The beaches are beautiful, the restaurants are great and the Gulf is open for business".

The Obamas stayed at the Bay Point Marriott where they had lunch overlooking Grand Lagoon at Lime''s Bayside Bar and Grill. They took a boat cruise around St. Andrews Bay aboard the Bay Point Lady where they spotted many dolphins. The first family also played a game of miniature golf at Pirate''s Island and swam in the gulf at Alligator Point. Michelle Obama and Sasha visited WonderWorks. That evening the President and his family dined at Firefly Restaurant at the Shoppes at Edgewater. After leaving the Bay Point Marriott on Sunday, they stopped at Bruster''s Ice Cream on Thomas Drive just outside of the Navy Base to enjoy a treat on their way out of Bay County.

Their visit brought much needed attention to the fact that the beaches were beautiful and ready for visitors after an extremely poor tourist season, due to the oil spill.





September 3, 2013

World's Tallest Man Visits Panama City


Billing himself as the world''s tallest man, Henry Hite visited Panama City for a weekend in January 1971. Although he claimed to be 8 feet 2 inches tall, the Guiness Book of World Records recorded him at 7 feet 9 inches tall. Born in 1915 as Henry Mullins, he was normal height until the age of 9. When he turned 12 he was 7 feet 4 inches tall, and was known to grow as much as one inch per week. By age 15 he reached his present size. Wearing size 22 custom made shoes, he slept diagonally on 2 king size beds and drove a modified Volkswagon from the back seat.

As the tallest of a 3 man vaudeville act he performed with them all over the nation. The act broke up in 1963 and he went on to a less than stellar movie career and then spent the later part of his life making promotional supermarket tours.

This is what brought him to Panama City. On a tour to promote the old Sunshine Foods "Sputnik" Store, he spent his 3 days here signing autographs and explaining to onlookers that his parents and siblings were all of normal height. His wife of 42 years stood a mere 5 feet 3 inches.





August 2, 2013

Panama Country Club’s First Sherman Invitational - 1937


One of the most prestigious amateur golf tournaments in the Southeast had very humble beginnings. Little did anyone know that when Walter Sherman, local lumber pioneer and Panama Country Club founder, presented the inaugural Sherman Invitational winner’s trophy to D.A. Vann of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1937 that this event would still be going strong after 85 years. Each year it attracts the region’s top golfers, and past winners have even included a future PGA Tour winner Gardner Dickinson.





August 1, 2013

Bay County Celebrates 50th Anniversary - 1963


On Saturday July 27, 1963, Bay County celebrated its 50th anniversary beginning at 10:00 a.m. with the “Parade of Progress” down Harrison Avenue in Panama City. Included in the parade were floats depicting the St. Andrews Bay Saltworks, a WWI Barracks, a turpentine mill, square dancing through the years, a horse drawn funeral hearse and much more. After the parade the Exhibit Room opened at 1:00 p.m. at the Marina Auditorium followed by a Water and Ski Show at 3:00p.m. The day was capped off with a Marina Parade and Fish Fry at 6:00p.m., and a Square Dance at 7:30p.m.





August 1, 2013

Bay Memorial Hospital Opens Its Doors - 1949


As Bay County grew, so did its need for medical care. Memorial Hospital of Bay County, now known as Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health System, opened on June 1, 1949 as a 66 bed facility. It was the first hospital in Florida to use federal funds from the Hill-Burton Act to build, which required them to pay back the initial funding by providing charity care. This became the hospital’s mission – to provide medical services to everyone, whether or not they had the ability to pay.

Throughout the decades continuous improvements have been made to Bay Medical. The 1960s saw 2 new additions in 1963 and 1968 increasing bed capacity to 181, along with more specialized treatment facilities and air conditioning to the patient rooms. A third addition was completed in 1976 and with it came a new name: Bay Memorial Medical Center, now serving a six-county area. Still growing, the hospital dedicated a fourth major addition in 1982, the three-story south wing which increased bed capacity to 284. The hospital’s name changed again, shortened to just Bay Medical Center. The 1980s also brought their heart surgery program to Bay County, as well as the outpatient center.

Recognizing the need for better outreach services, and because space on the Bay Medical campus had become limited, the 1990s saw the implementation of many new off-site facilities and services. Another large expansion took place in 2002 with the opening of the West Tower which introduced or increased specialized treatment facilities. The last major expansion officially opened on September 8, 2010 as the new 198,000 square-foot, five story patient tower, including 144 new patient rooms, new intensive care units and a new cafeteria. It also included a state-of-the-art Central Energy Plant that can keep the hospital fully operational for 72 hours in the event of a hurricane or other disaster.

The biggest change in Bay Medical’s history took place in 2012 when Sacred Heart Health System and LHP Hospital Group finalized a 40 year lease and asset purchase agreement to form a joint venture that will lease and operate Bay Medical Center. The decision to move from a publicly owned to privately owned hospital came about after Bay Medical’s debt grew due to indigent care, less insurance reimbursement income and a general rise in operating costs. It was not a popular move for many and there were several heated public debates among Bay County citizens, hospital officials and staff, and County Commissioners. The joint venture pledged, however, to continue to follow the charity care policy Bay Medical Center was founded upon over 60 years ago.





August 1, 2013

Bay Point Invitational Billfish Tournament - 1984


1984 marked the start of Bay County’s premier fishing competition, the Bay Point Invitational Billfish Tournament. When the Marriott took over Bay Point that same year and announced plans to expand the marina and clubhouse, build a second golf course within the resort, as well as a Marriott Hotel and several new residential developments, a group of local fishing enthusiasts proposed an annual billfish tournament to the new owners to help put the marina and resort “on the map”.

The first tournament passed with little fanfare and few spectators to watch the weigh in for the first blue marlin ever brought to the tournament dock, but with each passing year the tournament grew. There were bigger prizes, bigger fish, bigger sponsors, bigger parties and bigger crowds. As of February 2012, the largest blue marlin ever weighed in Florida, 1046 lbs., was caught by Conrad Hawkins on the Lucky 2 in 2001. The second largest blue marlin ever weighed in Florida, 998.6 lbs., was caught by Barry Carr on the Sea Wolf in 2006. Both fish were weighed in at the Bay Point Invitational Billfish Tournament – a record no other Florida tournament can equal!

For the first time in history, the tournament was canceled in 2010 due to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the resulting fishing closures in the Gulf of Mexico. It resumed again the following year, but in 2012 tournament organizers announced the end of the Bay Point Invitational Billfish Tournament. High fuel prices, dwindling sponsors and a proliferation of billfish tournaments along the gulf coast were cited as some of the reasons for their decision. The tournament which had always donated all proceeds to charity is definitely missed by many, but provided Bay County citizens with many wonderful memories during its 28 year run.





August 1, 2013

Panama City Post Office Dedicated - 1938


Northwest Floridians by the thousands made Friday April 29, 1938 a holiday as they converged upon Panama City for the dedication of the Panama City Post Office. Bay County saw one of its biggest celebrations to date for this grand opening.

Postmaster James A. Farley was the guest speaker. A motorcade from Pensacola to Panama City with Farley’s car leading the way was staged with Fred Phillips, from Bay County, elected as Grand Marshall. Cars were to be approximately 200 feet apart during the entire 105 mile journey from Pensacola to Panama City. Motorcades from several towns north of here such as Defuniak Springs, Chipley, Bonifay, Marianna and others joined the Pensacola group at the “Y”, the road where the cars from these towns had converged.

The official program began at noon when Orin Whitley’s Bay High School Band played. Jesse Cogburn, Mayor Custer P. Russ, the Elks Club, the Cove Hotel and John H. Perry were also involved in the dedication ceremony. For the first time, remote control radio broadcasts were made from here for this event. Station WCOA in Pensacola and WALA in Mobile carried the program. In addition to the throngs of people who covered the area in front of the Post Office, hundreds more looked on from building roof tops and windows. Many people simply sat in their automobiles with auto radios tuned in to the Pensacola and Mobile stations broadcasting the dedication to the Southland.

The cost of the building itself was $130,000.00, and at the time, it cost 3 cents to mail a letter. This post office continues to serve Bay County today and has changed very little over the years.





August 1, 2013

Snake-A-Torium Strikes the Beach – 1946


Becoming one of Panama City Beach’s first independent tourist attractions, Snake-A-Torium opened in 1946 to the enjoyment (or not) of its many visitors. Although its name suggests that you would only see snakes during your time there, they did have many other types of reptiles and animals to entertain their guests. Not only did Snake-A-Torium serve as an entertainment venue, it also supplied snake venoms to laboratories all over the world. On October 1, 1991 Panama City Beach veterinarian Gerrie Barr, along with others, purchased Snake-A-Torium. After renovating the property, Zoo World opened its doors to the public and today is still entertaining thousands of visitors year round, both tourists and locals.





August 1, 2013

Stay on the Bay at the Cove Hotel – 1926


Built in 1926, the Cove Hotel became Bay County’s first top notch hotel, known for its elegant southern hospitality. Located at 300 Cherry Street in the heart of “The Cove” it had 50 rooms, each with a private bath which was quite a luxury at the time. Guests had access to a quarter mile stretch of pristine waterfront along St. Andrews Bay and the well- tended grounds offered visitors walkways, gardens and wading pools. Post World War II, the plantation-like grounds were a popular choice for weddings and formal receptions.

Owned by Ruth Sealy Harris, she kept the interior as elegant as well with beautiful hardwood floors, high quality furnishings and priceless antiques, all adding to the allure of The Cove Hotel. It soon became the center of social functions and was known for its excellent cuisine. The first chef was from Switzerland and had worked at many of the grand European hotels before coming to Panama City.

Mrs. Harris was a “hands on” owner and approved the guest list for every function held there and was the perfect hostess to many famous people over the years. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor once stopped for dinner on their way to a fishing trip on the Dead Lakes. Baseball great Ted Williams and even the Three Stooges also stayed at the hotel. In the early 1950s, presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson even gave a campaign speech on the front lawn. But perhaps the most famous guest was Clark Gable who was attending gunnery school at Tyndall Field in 1942.

Mrs. Harris was also known for the extravagant parties she put on during World War II each time a ship was launched from Wainwright Shipyard. There were 99 ships and 99 parties and Mrs. Harris said “The champagne flowed like water” during these celebrations.

As the hotel aged and newer hotels more centrally located hotels were built, the Cove Hotel lost its edge and closed its doors in 1974. Most of the fine furnishings and antiques were auctioned off or packed up and the once elegant Cove Hotel stood vacant and lifeless staring out at St. Andrews Bay. It soon became a popular hangout for vagrants and in 1976 it went up in flames attributed to a small fire started in the basement by transients looking for a warm place to spend the night – a sad ending for a place that give Bay County so many wonderful memories.





August 1, 2013

The Public Library System Helps To Enlighten Bay County-1911


Bay County’s first library was established in 1911 in Lynn Haven through the efforts of the “Women’s Literary Club”. As interest in establishing a library in Panama City grew, a group met in January 1914 and formed an organization called “The Panama City Library Association”. Several months later, a library was established.

The Women’s Club played a major role in the development of the public library in Bay County. Though many people in the community tried to keep the library open, the library didn’t have a place to call its own. In fact, the library moved so many times it was once known as “the traveling library”. In 1939 Miss Bessie Norton, librarian of the high school, headed up an organization named “Friends of the Bay County Free Public Library” and through their efforts and community support , they were able to secure a permanent location for a library on September 10, 1941. They shared the building with the Chamber of Commerce for a number of years and were very happy when the Chamber moved out, since they had continued to grow and were very cramped.

By 1960, the library had nearly doubled its services. There was a bookmobile and the McMullen Library in Lynn Haven became part of the county system. The Bay County Free Public Library incorporated and became the Bay County Public Library Association, Inc. which contracted with the Bay County Board of County Commissioners to provide library services to Bay County citizens. In 1962, a second bookmobile was added and the Association contracted with Washington County and formed the Northwest Regional Library System. Later in this decade Gulf, Calhoun and Walton Counties joined the library system. They also sold their current building which they had outgrown and moved to the Christo Dime Store building where they stayed for two years until the new library building on the City Marina was ready in May 1967.

The 1970s saw Walton County leave the System, but Liberty and Holmes Counties jumping on board. The Northwest Regional Library System now served six counties covering 3,946 square miles. This decade also celebrated the opening of the Springfield Public Library and bid goodbye to the bookmobiles.

The eighties began with a new library building at Panama City Beach, next to City Hall. This was a decade of lean budgets, reorganizations and the implementation of new funding structures meant to help regional and municipal libraries. By the time the 1990s arrived the years of financial constraints took their toll and the System had lost Calhoun, Washington and Holmes Counties, as well as the City of Lynn Haven.

In 1992 the State Library finally recognized that smaller, rural county libraries were on the verge of collapse and revised funding formulas and rules to even the playing field for all counties and also provided multi-county grants as an incentive for counties to join together to provide cost-effective library service. The Nineties also saw a push to modernize the library’s internal organization by implementing CD-ROM catalogs and computerized circulation systems that provided information on and access to materials available in the System libraries.

The years following the millenium saw major changes in the county’s library system. In 2006 the Bay County Board of County Commissioners voted to make the Bay County Public Library a department of Bay County effective April 1, 2007. Until then, the Library was part of the Bay County Public Library Association, a not-for-profit organization. Another big event was the grand opening of the new library built at 898 West 11th Street in Panama City on May 16, 2008. With about 55,000 square feet, this single story state-of-the-art building was more than twice the size of the old one. And in 2010, a new 10,000 square foot library was built in Panama City Beach to serve the exploding beach population.

There is no doubt the library plays a vital role in Bay County’s progress and the coming years will continue to see the library system grow and adapt to meet the needs of our citizens.





August 1, 2013

Turpentine Industry Provides Jobs For Early Bay County


The vast pine forests of the area provided naval stores businesses. Such places as Betts, Vicksburg, Bellisle and Majette were the early camps for the second largest industry in the early 1900’s.

First settlers from Georgia and the Carolinas brought the knowledge of extracting tar and turps from the trees. The navy used the gum resin for sealing the hulls of its ships and protecting the rigging from the weather. A.J. Gay, in 1897, constructed a turpentine still near his home in what is now Lynn Haven and imported a stiller named Ed Redmond from Blakely, Georgia. Gay contacted Capt. L.M. Ware of St. Andrews that his first product was ready for shipment. Ware sailed his sloop and seine boat around to the still and transported the turpentine to St. Andrews, where the steamer Alpha carried the barrels to Carrabelle.

New words came from this industry. “Faces” were tapped or chipped places on the trees for turpentining, with the front face tapped first. Workers, who were known as “chippers,” cut streaks each week in summer to keep the gum flowing from the trees. Boxes or cups were placed under the cuts to catch the gum. “Dippers” traveled around and emptied the gum into dip buckets weighing up to 50 pounds then into 50- gallon barrels which were rolled up skid poles onto mule-drawn wagons and hauled to the stills for distillation. The turpentine camps also consisted of quarters for the workers, the company store and a cemetery; some had schools and churches.

Naval stores products had many uses such as pharmaceuticals and as a paint thinner. Resin was used for paper, synthetic rubber and in manufacture of soap and nylon. The industry continued for 30 years. The price of naval stores dropped due to the Depression and as new synthetic projects came on the market. Many of the turpentine workers sought employment at the paper mill that began operation in 1931. But the majority of the old naval stores employees and operators never forgot the smell of turpentine and their work in the woods. Although new remedies came on the market, many kept bottles of turpentine for their cuts and bruises.





August 1, 2013

USS Momsen Commissioned - 2004


On September 19, 2000, Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Richard Danzig, announced the decision to name the 42nd ship of the Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers, MOMSEN. The name MOMSEN honors retired Vice Admiral Charles Bowers “Swede” Momsen, best known for his efforts in the successful rescue of 33 crewmembers and the subsequent salvage of submarine USS SQUALUS after sinking in 240 feet of water in May 1939. The ship was constructed at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Main.

Welcomed by dozens of private boats both big and small, the Navy’s mammoth destroyer lumbered slowly to Port Panama City. The USS MOMSEN was commissioned on August 28, 2004 at Port Panama City because the Naval Surface Warfare Center (Navy Base) was instrumental in creating and testing Vern Clark’s Sea Power 21 vision which will be used on the destroyer, and Momsen who was once commanding officer of the Navy Experimental Diving Unit has revolutionized Navy diving with his inventions such as the Momsen Lung and McCann Diving Bell. The Navy Base here is known as the “hub” of training, research and development, testing and evaluation for all Navy diving. Momsen is known as the father of Navy diving and is the man for whom the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center building at Naval Support Activity-Panama City is named. Also the Remote Mine hunting System, an unmanned mine hunting device that seeks out mines without sacrificing the lives of Sailors – was developed and tested here in Panama City and it will be aboard the MOMSEN. Momsen’s great-grandson, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Hailey, was a crew member aboard the vessel.

The port had to be dredged. A fresh coat of gray paint was applied to the ship. An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people came to the area for the ceremony. It was one of the most significant military events to take place in Bay County’s history.





July 1, 2013

Bay High School Tragedy


Three Bay High School students, all members of the Student Council and their chaperone-teacher were killed early Sunday, May 1, 1960, in a highway accident near Blountstown on State Road 20.

Attending a state-wide Student Council Convention at Pompano Beach it is believed they decided to drive the entire distance to Panama City overnight, a distance of about 550 miles. As they approached Blountstown, their vehicle struck a bridge abutment spanning a railroad track near the Apalachicola River. Two died immediately and the other two passed away shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital.

These four wonderful people were inspirations to their classmates, families and the community. Gene Cain, Senior; Dewey Conrad, Senior; Helen Walker, Junior and Miss Frances Hart, teacher are still well remembered to this day. The Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tommy Smith, ordered the school closed on May 3 the day of the funerals.





July 1, 2013

Former Beauty Queen Murdered in Bay County


A crime magazine called George Lowell Everett “Dracula.” Mayor Carl Gray referred to him as “the fiendish monster lurking amongst us.” When the 19 year-old came to Panama City from Dothan, AL in January 1955, he only wanted to have a good time. Everett loved flashy cars, lots of money and pretty girls. He had not learned much from his past experiences.

Working for a relative in Dothan he became restless and bored. On Sunday morning he stole their car and headed for the Gulf Coast beaches. Finding downtown Panama City quiet in the middle of winter and nothing like he expected he hung around town, sleeping in his car. On Tuesday, January 18, 1955, after 9 a.m. he pulled his car around to Magnolia Avenue and parked along the street just as two women and a little boy came out of a duplex and got into a small maroon car. Lou Ellen Jones, pretty 21- year old mother of Curtis, was a beauty queen in Oklahoma and was the wife of a Tyndall sergeant. Everett tried the doors to the duplex and found one open and slipped inside. When Mrs. Jones and her 3-year old son returned they startled him. Everett lunged at her and said, “Be quiet. I won’t hurt you.” But she screamed and started to run. He hit her over the head with a vase. As Lou Ellen slumped to the floor, Everett pulled the sobbing little boy toward him and told him nothing was wrong. “Go into the living room and play.” Curtis did, but continued to whimper.

A neighbor boy returning from school in the afternoon found Curtis playing in the yard partially unclothed. He helped the little boy with his clothes and sent him into his house. He tried to knock and get Mrs. Jones’ attention, but she failed to answer. When Staff Sgt. Joe R. Jones returned home at 5 p.m. he had no inkling of trouble until he entered the living room and saw the broken glass and overturned furniture. He screamed for his wife, but only little Curtis called to him from the kitchen. “Mama is asleep,” he told his father. The full impact did not hit Jones until he entered the rear bedroom and found his wife’s body.

Capt. Ira Ross of the Panama City Police was the first to arrive at the murder scene. He summoned Sheriff M.J. “Doc” Daffin who came with his special investigators. All Jones’ toddler could tell them was that the man was white and he “hit momma with a knife and I cried and momma did, too”. An extensive county wide search was begun. The Panama City newspapers and local radio stations carried articles of the murder and investigation each day and urged people to help with the investigation.

While investigators found themselves stymied the suspect took to the road traveling to Dothan, New Orleans and back to Dothan. He walked into the Dothan police station on Jan 26 to turn himself in and admitted stealing the car. After intensive questioning from Sheriff “Doc” Daffin, Everett confessed. He showed no emotion but was concerned about the little boy.

At the arraignment on March 11, he pleaded not guilty on grounds of insanity. On May 24, the first-degree murder trial began. Some testified that he was different, utterly selfish, and abnormal. On May 28 the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder after deliberating only 58 minutes. Judge E. Clay Lewis sentenced him to death. Everett’s attorneys made a motion for a new trial.

On Nov. 7 1956, Everett’s case took another strange turn. The jailer failed to lock his cell door and he along with another prisoner forced open a heavy wire mesh screen window guard on the jail’s second floor, dropped 15 feet to the ground below and made their departure. FBI agents recaptured Everett 22 hours later in his hometown of Columbus, GA. He was immediately placed on death row in Raiford State Prison. On June 13, 1958 George Lowell Everett made history. He became the first man to die in Florida’s electric chair for a crime committed in Bay County.





July 1, 2013

Hurricane Eloise


Coming across the Caribbean Islands with high winds and flooding rains killing people in the small villages, Hurricane Eloise entered the Gulf of Mexico on September 16, 1975. The residents of northwest Florida went to sleep not knowing that Eloise had gained strength and took an unexpected turn to the northeast on the evening of the 22nd. In the predawn hours Civil Preparedness Officials with loud speakers on their cars combed the streets urging residents to seek high ground. Eloise stormed ashore between Panama City Beach and Fort Walton Beach on September 23rd at 7:30 in the morning. With winds of up to 130 miles an hour it brought devastation to Panama City Beach. On the far western end of the beach, the middle section of the Downtowner Motor Inn was destroyed and washed across the street and points beyond. Television sets, furniture and refrigerators were strewn across a two-acre tract amid tangled electrical wires. Many other homes and businesses along the gulf were sagging toward the shore, their foundations washed away from under them, some totally ripped off their foundations and some turned upside down on their foundations. A large number of national guardsmen along with local law officials were called in to protect the vacated structures from looters.

It was estimated that 50 percent of the houses were destroyed and a total of 85-90 percent of all structures on the gulf side of Highway 98 were severely damaged. Panama City Beach Mayor, Dan Russell, estimated the damage to the resort town at between $75 - $100 million. Luckily, no deaths were attributed directly to the storm in Florida. Perhaps the greatest financial loss was suffered by Marifarms of Panama City when the 2,100 acre, $2 million mass-production shrimp farm was lost to the storm tide, and they had no insurance.





July 1, 2013

Mullin's Lost Head


The line from the song, “I ain’t got nobody,” rang true for Joseph Mullins, 49, when his body was found without its head. Mullins, the owner of an all-night café, often spent his evenings in a card game so his wife did not find it unusual when he didn’t come home. World War II was at its height then and many businesses operated round-the-clock in downtown and the outskirts of Panama City so those working nights had places to go after their shift change.

The next afternoon, Feb. 9, 1944, Mullin’s wife, Hazel, found his empty car when she went to the downtown post office to pick up the mail. A search of the vehicle revealed blood in several spots. Hazel drove Joe’s bloody car to the City Hall where Police Chief George W. McCall directed her to drive the vehicle to the sheriff’s office so they could examine the car. A massive search was undertaken involving the police, sheriff’s deputies, volunteers and military personnel from Tyndall Field.

Three days later on Feb. 12, 1944 Mullins’ body was found in a wooded spot near 10th Street and Buena Vista Boulevard without its head. Mullins’ head has never been found. Although three individuals were taken into custody, no one was prosecuted for the crime.





July 1, 2013

The Dupont Bridge Tragedy


Late in the 1920s, the construction began on two bridges - Hathaway across West Bay and DuPont across East Bay. These bridges opened the coast to east-west travel, something motorists never had before.

Trouble developed on the DuPont Bridge when a caisson on Pier No. 6 turned over, injuring nine men in January 1928. The two on the outside fell and were rescued, but the seven men on the inside dropped to their watery graves on the bottom of the bay, entombed inside the steel shell. Attempts were made to rescue the men but those involved in rescue efforts realized there was nothing they could do. The remains of the other men were retrieved over the next few days. Several of the men were from out of state.





July 1, 2013

The Great Millville Fire


At the beginning of 1930, the once great St. Andrews Bay Lumber Co. of Millville stood idle with hundreds of laborers unemployed. After decades of ruthless cutting the century-old forests and no replanting, the land lay barren and stretched for miles. Rumors were passed around town about the possibility of the first paper mill coming to Florida.

On March 22, 1931, the lumber mill whistle blew several times deep in the night. About 1 a.m., the mill went up in a gigantic blaze, fanned by a gusty wind. A single fire truck fought the blaze with a small water supply. The fire soon spread to 20 homes and several vehicles. These homes had been occupied by well-known citizens of the town.

The tragedy left more than 150 people homeless. When the fire died down, the once busy section of town was left with only blackened chimneys and shriveled trees. Although three men were accused of starting the fire, no one was ever charged.





July 1, 2013

The Killing of Walter Sharpless


When two women came across his bloody body in St. Andrews on Saturday, May 23, 1931, they had no idea who he was. They drove to the nearest filling station where they notified Sheriff Ollie Hobbs and reported that they found a dead man at the edge of the road. Hobbs suspected who it might be and arrived at the murder scene with County Judge Carl Russ and Deputy Cannon. They identified the victim and agreed that Walter Sharpless, a past deputy sheriff and chief of police, had been shot at close range.

The problem began a year earlier when Sharpless found mail carrier Joseph Harrison, his family and guests surf bathing and sunning on the sand on an open beach. They were just down from Long Beach and did not pay Sharpless’ admission. He yelled that they trespassed “on property of the beach” and ordered them to leave. Harrison refused and Sharpless and his employee, Giles Skinner, bludgeoned him in the head and groin with a gun. His family drove the battered man to a hospital in Panama City.

They knew that while Harrison fought a number of months to get well, he and his son, Walter, threatened to get even with Sharpless. In February 1931, they made their first attempt. They hid behind a big pine tree near Hathaway Bridge so they could shoot him as he returned from his usual Saturday trip to town. But when they spotted Sharpless with another man in the car, they abandoned that scheme.

During the next three months, Joseph and Walter made several more attempts to kill Sharpless but for one reason or another always had their plans foiled. They studied Sharpless’ habits and concluded that if Sharpless’ beach sign hung crooked from a pine tree, he would stop to adjust it as he traveled by it.

On May 23, 1931 they got their chance. The day before the Harrisons cut down branches and bushes to build a tall brush pile at the base of the pine tree that held Sharpless’ sign. The next morning they set the trap. After watching the resort owner pass on his usual trip into town, Walter ripped the sign from the tree and propped it on the ground against the brush pile. Later, when Sharpless found his sign on the ground he jumped from his car and ran to the sign. They blasted him in the face and the right shoulder with a load of buckshot. Sharpless fell dead on the ground.

The Harrisons were arrested and when they refused to admit their guilt, they both spent months in jail while the authorities attempted to break them by providing little food and

drinks. They even covered the jail cell with a heavy blanket to cut off some of the air. Their case eventually went to trial, and they were both convicted. Joseph Harrison was sent to Chattahoochee, and Walter received a life term. But eventually Mrs. Harrison got them released with a signed petition. Joseph Harrison returned home and lived a long life. Walter died young in a motorcycle accident.





July 1, 2013

The Lost Boys of East Bay


The ballad entitled the “Lost Boys of East Bay” by Harry Evans began:

There’s a story so sad, I’m about to relate, of a ship that has left here and gone to her

fate; Of the fatherless children and mothers who wait, for the news of their loved ones,

and their hard, cruel fate.”

On October 1, 1894, sixteen men and boys from Cook Bayou along East Bay departed for a fishing trip in the deeper water off Apalachicola. They sailed on three fishing sloops and schooners: the Annie, the Lizzie B. and the Arrow.

The county suffered from a recession at that time, the same as the rest of the country. The men desperately needed the money they could earn to support their families. They set up camp on Sand Island off Apalachicola. When some left to pick up ice the vendor tried to get the men to remain in port because a stiff wind was beginning to blow. But the fishermen knew the moon was right and they needed all the mullet they could catch in the net to sell and feed their families. They were confident they could return to land before the storm hit.

But the hurricane struck sooner than they expected and wild waters rushed across the island. To protect themselves from being swept away, they tied themselves together with a rope. The lighthouse keeper was the last individual to see them as he peered through his field glasses from the top of the tower. Their boats broke loose and floated wildly around the bay. Next morning none of the fishermen could be found.

When the bad weather improved search parties scoured the island and other nearby locations. Days later four bodies were discovered at various places around the bay. But the other 12 fishermen were never found.

Oh, the mother who’s left without husband or sons, to cheer her at evening when the

days work is done. As the days quickly pass and the years roll away, let us join

her in prayer, for the lost boys of East Bay.”





July 1, 2013

The Pines Hotel Fire


A few years after the Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railway was completed into Panama City the railroad erected a two-story, wooden building for meetings and railroad business. Years later this building underwent renovation and became the Pines Hotel south of what is now the intersection of Sixth Street and Beach Drive in Panama City. In its location near the railroad terminal, the Pines became a favorite of travelers and traveling salesmen. The Pines Hotel was owned by Minor C. Keith of Florida Properties.

During the midmorning of Nov. 22, 1932, a fire started in the west wing from flue sparks that ignited the roof. The Pines Hotel inferno was reported as one of the hottest and largest fires in Panama City. Some of the furnishings were rescued before the fire consumed the entire building. School children were released from school so they could see the great blaze.





July 1, 2013

Youngstown Train Derailment


Deadly chlorine gas spewed from a derailed Bay Line tank car just north of Youngstown Sunday morning, Feb. 26, 1978, killing at least eight persons, most of them teenagers who were motorists driving through the fog of lethal chlorine gas. Authorities said 43 rail cars and five locomotives derailed about a mile and a half north of the city along U.S. Highway 231 around 2 a.m. One of two chlorine filled cars was punctured, releasing the gas into the air. The derailment actually happened north of Youngstown at Couch, an industrial site of 10 acres owned by Couch Construction Co. of Dothan, Alabama.

A total of 88 persons were injured, more than 40 hospitalized, and at least 8 more were listed in critical condition.

The 140 –car train was headed south at approximately 40 miles-per-hour travelling on level ground when the derailment occurred in the fog-shrouded pine forest. The train was carrying among other materials, the two chlorine tank cars containing the poisonous liquid four cars loaded with the hazardous caustic soda, one car with hazardous sodium hydroxide and one with explosive ammonia nitrate. A liquid propane tanker was buried under the wreckage and was dripping or leaking. The discovery of the gas leak sparked a full scale evacuation of 1,000 to 2,500 residents in the Youngstown-Fountain area in the early morning hours. The final evacuation area was 140 square miles. Local authorities patrolled the evacuation sites and no looting was reported. County deputies with the help of a Tyndall AFB rescue helicopter managed to pluck the train’s engineer from the woods and lift him out on a sling. A special team was dispatched from Jacksonville to mend the rip in the chlorine tank car.

Salvage specialists planned to construct a protective shield around the wreckage Monday before attempting to clean up the wreck. Officials planned to dam streams in the area to protect the Panama City water supply. A crew from Tyndall bathed the wreckage with a thick coating of chemical foam in order to minimize the chance of a spark igniting the liquid propane and to smother the chlorine liquid.

On Thursday it was determined that the derailment was caused by sabotage resulting when someone misaligned the rails at a joint in the track according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railroad Company offered a $10,000 reward for evidence that would lead to the arrest of those responsible. No one was ever charged by the FBI in connection with the derailment. The damaged and destroyed railcars and locomotives, tract structure, cargo, cleanup and lawsuits totaled in the millions.

Six days after the disaster, 3,500 displaced residents were permitted to return to their homes.

The contaminated soil was removed and sent to an approved landfill in Tennessee. The Bay Line purchased the site and sold it to an asphalt paving company that used it to resurface part of U.S. 231. They constructed the fence around the property.





June 3, 2013

A Sweet Addition to Bay County 1950s


Swedette’s Ice Cream parlor opened in the 1950s and was the first soft ice cream parlor in the county. It was located on the corner of Magnolia and Sixth Streets.





June 3, 2013

Bay County Gets A Shopping Mall 1976


On May 9, 1975 a groundbreaking ceremony was held on land formerly known as “Red Eye Hole” for construction of the Panama City Mall. Just over 608,000 square feet, the mall was built by Charles N. Agree at an estimated cost of $10,000,000. It opened in August 1976 with 2 anchor stores: Gayfers, and Sears. In May 1981 J.C. Penney bought land and built their store which opened as the mall's third anchor store in 1982. Renovated in 2004, its anchor stores today are Dillard’s, J.C. Penney and Sears, and it features over 100 specialty shops, a food court, and a movie theater. Built adjacent to it is the Shoppes at Panama City anchored by Best Buy and Bob Evans. Red Lobster and Panera Bread have also opened for business next to the mall.

This photo is an aerial view of the mall being built in 1975.





June 3, 2013

Dixie Sherman Debuts With Informal Opening 1927


St. Andrews Bay News, Tuesday, July 5, 1927: “The Dixie-Sherman hotel presented a most brilliant scene Wednesday evening June 29th, when the management entertained with a most elaborate opening ball. Early in the evening guests began to pour in, every room in the hotel being taken.”

Expressions of profound admiration were heard during the evening, “I never thought I would live to see anything like this in Panama City”; “Can you imagine this is Panama City?”; “It is more like Atlanta or New York.”

“The people of Panama City thronged to the Dixie-Sherman to pay homage to one of the most beautiful hotels that has as yet graced the state of Florida. They are proud to have this handsome edifice in their town. They have watched it go up step by step until, like a mammoth exotic flower, it burst into full bloom Wednesday night. …In addition to the throngs who danced on the polished ball room floor there were hordes of spectators who sat around in the beautiful gilded chairs and watched the crowd on the floor as they twined in and out of the dance.”

The Dixie Sherman stood stately on the northeast corner of Fifth Street and Jenks Avenue. On top of the eight floors of 102 rooms with private baths, telephones and elevator service there was a spectacular roof garden extending nearly the entire length of the building. This vantage point provided excellent views of the town.

On April 19, 1970, the tallest building in Panama City was demolished with 143 perfectly placed charges inside the building. The once-elegant hotel buckled into rubble in a matter of seconds. This signified an end of one era and the beginning of another for Panama City. An eight-story building, which was to house the rapidly growing Bay National Bank and Trust Co. was to be constructed on the site. To this day the site is still a concrete parking lot.





June 3, 2013

Election Day Band 1913


The bill to create Bay County went into effect on July 1, 1913 and the first order of business was to conduct an election on June 7, 1913 to select Bay County officials.

W.A. Brown was elected Sheriff and was later removed from office for suspicion of fiscal improprieties. C.E. Scott replaced him and was subsequently murdered and Frank Nelson Sr. finished the term.

The first Board of County Commissioners was comprised of Chairman R.L. McKenzie, T.E. Crawford, L.C. Gay, T.B. Young and A.J. Gainer.

Elected to the first School Board were Chairman R.D. Murray, Dr. Allen H. Miller and W.B. Merritt. Bay County’s first Superintendent of Education was E.L. Brigman, who later ran away with his secretary and resigned. F.M. Nelson Sr. was appointed to complete his term.

Other officials elected to start up Bay County were: County Surveyor, J.P. Haley; Clerk of Circuit Court, W.H. Marshall; County Judge, D.K. Middleton; Supervisor of Elections, R.E. Palmer; Tax Assessor G.M.B. Harries; and Tax Collector J.B. Blackwell.

This picture depicts L to R: Martin Davis, Charlie and Delbert Davis, W.H. Parker and unknown playing outside a voting site during the June 1913 election.





June 3, 2013

Lynn Haven-Southport Bridge Opens 1925


Opened in 1925, the Lynn Haven-Southport bridge provided a tourist route into St. Andrews Bay from the “Old Spanish Trail”. The toll keeper’s house stood on the south end of the 1 1/8 mile wooden structure. Prior to the beginning of WWII General George Patton led his troops and tanks across the rickety wooden span.

The D.J. Bailey Bridge was opened in December 1946 to replace the original old wooden bridge. Today it is used as a pedestrian and fishing structure because a new four lane replacement bridge was completed in 1989.

This picture shows the bridge tender and 2 gentlemen near the toll house.





June 3, 2013

Petticoat Junction vs. Tombstone Territory


In the early 1960’s the wild west galloped into Panama City Beach through the Churchwell family’s Petticoat Junction amusement park, and Lee Koplin’s Tombstone Territory, both named after popular TV shows. Tombstone Territory’s sky ride gave visitors a view of the beach from 100 feet in the air, a novelty since there were no 2 story buildings at the time. Both parks had train rides, but they were rather boring, so Koplin built a concrete structure fashioned after an old Spanish mission and added various concrete statues to add to the entertainment factor.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Petticoat Junction was watching Koplins’ efforts. Not to be left in the dust, they built their own large Western town complete with cowboys, horse rides and shootouts at the halfway point of their railroad’s circle, and soon added amusement rides and large statues to the empty space between the railroad depot and the ghost town. Petticoat Junction was now much larger than Tombstone Territory and spent a lot more money on advertising and marketing to ensure its success.

Not to be outdone, Koplin decided to build a huge concrete cave housing an adobe Indian village to lure the tourists, complete with souvenir shops selling “authentic” Indian items. He also used concrete to build a towering Indian statue, cattle, a totem pole and even a huge genie coming out of Aladdin’s lamp with metal stairs leading tourists to his outstretched hand for a photo opportunity.

All good things must come to an end, however, and Hurricane Eloise destroyed the Tombstone Territory’s skyride in 1975. Since interest had waned anyway, the mangled remains were left to rust and by 1979, the last train chugged out of Tombstone’s station leaving a myriad of concrete figures with nothing to do. Racoon River Campground on Hutchison Boulevard now occupies the site of what once was Tombstone Territory’s skyride, and the roadside section where the concrete figures stood is now a row of fast-food restaurants.

Although the Churchwells hung in there longer, the sun was also setting on Petticoat Junction. As the center of activity on the Panama City Beach strip moved westward, fewer people visited the park, and after 40 years of entertaining visitors, Petticoat Junction’s workers rode into the sunset on Labor Day 1984 when they closed their doors for good and auctioned off their trains, amusement rides and merchandise. Today, the Wal-Mart Supercenter sits on what was most of Petticoat Junction.





June 3, 2013

Read All About It - Bay County Newspapers


When Bay County formed, it had two newspapers in print. The Lynn Haven Tribune was published weekly from 1911 to 1918 and the Panama City Pilot began publishing weekly on May 30, 1907 with George M. West as editor. One of the founders of Panama City, West began this paper to promote the St. Andrews Bay area. As his health declined, his third wife, Lillian Carlisle West, would become the paper’s publisher, editor and manager, and during her tenure also managed the St. Andrews Bay News acquired in 1916, and the Lynn Haven Free Press acquired in 1926.

In 1931, Charles White, who had a long history in the newspaper industry, began printing the Bay County Herald. With a staff of just 4 it was published weekly, was six columns wide and ran an average of eight pages. Subscriptions were $2 per year, with a circulation of 2,200. Its first location was a small building beneath the Panama Theatre on Harrison Avenue. In 1935, John Perry bought the Bay County Herald from Charles White, who continued as editor until his death later that year, and on September 29, 1935 the weekly Bay County Herald became the daily Panama City Herald.

When Mrs. West sold the publishing rights to all three papers to John Perry in 1937, the St. Andrews Bay News was merged with the Panama City Herald and the Panama City Pilot was discontinued at the end of 1941.

In this picture standing L to R: Fred Phillips, Hugh Thomas, Dick White, Reese Kelly, J. Lewis Morgan, Alton Boyd, Jack Baxter, Earl White, J. Ed Stokes, Mr. White. Foreground: Louise Rollins and a son of Lewis Morgan. An interesting tidbit about this photo is that the newspapers visible in the foreground were the 1st edition of the Bay County Herald, which later developed into the Panama City News Herald.





June 3, 2013

Say Goodbye to Cedar Grove


The Town of Cedar Grove was incorporated in 1951 and had a population of approximately 3400 people in 2010. The town suffered through a rather tumultuous history over the last decade, from financial woes and audits, to a recall election in 2002 to remove the mayor and city commissioners, to former Mayor Hildrie Peel eventually going to prison for misconduct in office. A petitioning effort was started in 2008 by a sitting commissioner, Janet Beier, to have Bay County take over the Town of Cedar Grove and on September 30, 2008 an election was held for the citizens to decide whether or not to dissolve the town and revoke its charter. When the polls closed, 723 citizens had voted in favor of dissolving while only 468 voted against the motion. Cedar Grove would become the first town in Florida’s history to be disincorporated by a vote of its citizens. The dissolution ordinance took effect on October 22, 2008, at which time the police department was disbanded and all assets became the property of the Bay County Board of County Commissioners.

Photo of former Cedar Grove City Hall





June 3, 2013

St. Andrews Bay Dairy 1921


St. Andrews Bay Dairy was begun by Mr. and Mrs. O.E. Miley in 1921 after their friend, Mr. Holton, persuaded them to move to Florida to help him operate a Satsuma citrus farm. When the business failed, it left Mr. Holton broke and the Mileys in a terrible financial bind. To help them out, Mr. Holton deeded a 420 acre tract with a home and a few buildings to the Mileys.

The only thing Mr. Miley knew was cattle so he acquired a few milk cows, charged some milk pails at the Panama City Machinery and Supply Company and was able to get some long-necked bottles that showed a tall cream line. As a nurse, Mrs. Miley knew how to sterilize the milking equipment and bottles and keep everything clean. They named their business the St. Andrews Bay Dairy and put their name in a circle on their truck. The red letters on their white trucks and milk bottles became easily recognizable as they became well established in the area. Through their perseverance they grew their dairy into a successful business and ran it for 23 years.

On December 1, 1942 they sold it to John and Ruth Hentz who operated for it for the next 31 years, growing it into the biggest independently owned and operated dairy in the area serving four counties. In addition to producing their own, St. Andrews Bay Dairy bought milk from other dairy farmers in Bay and other counties. In 1952 the Hentz’s sold the processing and distribution end of their business to Borden Milk Company.

In 1957 the dairy went back to retail milk business with a string of seven cash and carry stores. Mr. Hentz bought land in Wausau in Washington County and eventually moved the entire dairy herd there, bringing the raw milk back to the processing plant in Panama City in a semi-tanker. In 1973, the Hentz’s transferred the farm in Wausau to new owners and at about this same time began developing the land in Panama City where the dairy once operated. This land included today’s Kings Point and several other housing and business developments.





June 3, 2013

St. Andrews State Park Was WWII Military Installation 1942


St. Andrews State Park, now known as St. Andrews State Recreation Area, was created in 1935 when the state wanted to preserve some of its natural resources. But little activity took place there for several years.

In 1942, at the start of WWII, the federal government assumed control of the location surrounding the pass and in April 1943, The U.S. Army assigned troops of Battery C, 13th Coastal Artillery to establish the Temporary Harbor Defense (THD) installation at this site overlooking the recently opened pass into St. Andrews Bay. The purpose was to protect the area from German submarines which were operating in the Gulf of Mexico. They erected several buildings, a wooden water tower with a deep well, a wharf, observation tower and 10 small barracks, capable of housing about 12 men each, all on the west side of the pass. The installation also consisted of two 155-millimeter guns mounted on concrete called Panama Mounts. The steel track around the rim allowed the gun to rotate 360 degrees to enable them to fire on enemy ships or submarines attempting to enter the channel. Florida remained on high alert as German U-boats prowled the Gulf of Mexico sinking many ships, and enemy agents slipped ashore along the east coast of Florida. Men on horses patrolled the beaches as far west as Phillips Inlet with different stations along the way. Entrance to the artillery unit came by way of boat, or what is now Thomas Drive south to a rebuilt wooden bridge over Grand Lagoon, connecting to a narrow trail on the south shore which led to the THD installation.

The site was inactivated on January 14, 1944 without a shot having been fired at the enemy. After the war, the 758-acre recreation area was developed and opened to the public in 1951.

This photo depicts one of the gun turrets still visible today. A pavilion has been built on the other one.





May 1, 2013

Books Banned in Bay County Schools 1986


In 1986 several young-adult novels available to students through the English department at Mowat Junior High School had spurred a controversy based on the underlying issue of censorship versus parental rights. Mowat’s English Department was one of 150 schools in the U.S. and Canada to be named as a Center of Excellence by the National Council of Teachers of English. Mowat students had won almost all of the awards at Bay County’s annual writing contest, and their ninth graders were testing at 12th-grade level.

The novels in question were considered by many to be contemporary classics. Some of those on the list were Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice”, Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea”, “Mister Roberts”, “I Am The Cheese”, “The Great Gatsby”, “The Red Badge of Courage” and more. The eleven teachers in the Mowat English Department agreed as did many of the parents that these works should be available to the students. Those who disagreed, however, wanted the books banned from the reading lists in the public school system and seemed to have the superintendent’s support.

Gloria Pipkin, Chair of the Mowat English Department, filed a lawsuit against former Superintendent Leonard Hall arguing that the books were being removed for constitutionally impermissible reasons. In protest, hundreds of parents, teachers and students jammed the school board meeting scheduled to discuss the district’s policy, which was broadcast live on local radio and television stations and lasted for eight hours.

In 1991, Pipkin and Hall settled. All of the banned books were restored to district shelves, and the review and selection policy for books was amended. One School Board member was quoted as saying, “The only thing we have succeeded in doing is making sure every child in Bay County reads the books we banned. None of us intended for this to happen.”





May 1, 2013

Camp Cheerful Established 1927


According to the “St. Andrews Bay News” on May 24, 1927 Bay County was greatly enriched when Camp Cheerful was permanently secured as a Boy Scout camp for the Choctawhatchee Area Council Boy Scouts, serving over 15 counties of southeast Alabama and Northwest Florida. The article states that this was made possible largely through the efforts of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce. It was located in Bayou George on Bear Creek one mile from Camp Flowers and was said to be one of the best Boy Scout camps in Florida. Usually having at least two camping sessions during June, scouts from Alabama could buy a roundtrip train ticket on the Bay Line for $2.00 from Dothan to Bayou George to attend camp.

This photo depicts the new administrative/club house provided to Camp Cheerful by the Panama City Kiwanis Club in 1928.





May 1, 2013

City of Parker Incorporates 1967


Settled in 1830, the City of Parker today encompasses 2.5 square miles, of which 6 miles of the south side boundary is coastline.

The first known description of the Parker area appeared in, “A View of West Florida”. This journal contained the first American survey of the St. Andrews Bay area and the survey identified a place called “Loftin” on the east bank of St. Andrews Bay.

William M. Loftin, was one of the two men generally credited with the original settlement of Parker. He first visited the area in 1818 as a member of Andrew Jackson’s military expedition and finally settled in Parker about 1830. Mr. Loftin went into the land development business with Joseph M. White and Henry Riviere, and they steadily purchased land in the East Bay Region while trying to develop the St. Andrews Bay area. Their intent was to develop the Parker area and call it “Austerlitz.” The exact boundaries for the City of Austerlitz were not known, but they are thought to have included the areas of Springfield, Parker, Callaway, Cedar Grove and possibly Lynn Haven. The name Austerlitz remained for half a century and was attributed to William Loftin and Peter Parker. It should be noted that Peter Parker had no bearing on the city’s current name. When William Loftin died in 1838 at age 53, he left behind 4 sons and 2 daughters. One daughter, Annie, married Peter Ferdinand Parker, who did in fact become one of the community’s founders.

Officially incorporated in 1967 the city boast a population today of 4,317 residents. The photo depicts the first mayor and city council of the newly formed city.

Pictured L-R: Fire Chief RoyRoberts, Council Member Cliff Fleming, Council Member Iving Myers, Mayor Earl Gilbert, Council Member Jack Askew, City Clerk Joyce Robertson, Council Member Aubrey Dykes, and Police Chief Joe Walker





May 1, 2013

Clark Gable Trains At Tyndall Air Field 1942


One of Tyndall's most famous trainees was Hollywood actor Clark Gable, best known for his portrayal of Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind." Gable enlisted in the Army Air Corps on Aug. 12, 1942 with the statement to the press, “There is a war to win and I consider it my right to fight.” He chose aerial gunnery because it was “The quickest and most effective way to get into combat.” Gable attended officer’s candidate school in Miami Beach, Florida where he shaved off his famous mustache in an attempt to make himself less recognizable. While there he was commissioned a second lieutenant and issued serial number 056-5390. He was then transferred to Tyndall Field for gunnery training. Gable’s arrival was kept secret for a few days to keep fans away. But word quickly spread throughout Panama City and he was besieged by followers whenever he left the base.

After weeks of intensive training, it was time for Gable and class 43-1 to be awarded the prized silver wings making him a full-fledged aerial gunner. Col. W.A. Maxwell, the base commander, pinned on Gable’s wings.





May 1, 2013

Newest Hathaway Bridge Dedicated 2004


State and local dignitaries attended the dedication ceremony on May 10, 2004 at the east end of the newest Hathaway Bridge to commemorate its official opening. The Hathaway Bridge spans St. Andrews Bay and connects the eastern portion of Bay County to Panama City Beach and further west. This was the third Hathaway Bridge to be built in the last 75 years. The first bridge was completed in 1929 and was named after then current State Road Department Chairman, Fons Hathaway. Its state of the art high rise featured a 200-foot long Warren Through-truss ‘wring span’ that allowed marine traffic access across the Bay. With a 50 cent toll for vehicular traffic and a 10 cent toll for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, the bridge’s roadbed was only twenty feet wide. As a side note, the first DuPont bridge was built at the same time in an effort to make east to west travel through the panhandle easier and ignite development.

The second Hathaway Bridge was opened in 1960 with a bridge deck that was 62 feet wide, a three foot shoulder and a raised curb median through the center of the length of the bridge. Unlike its predecessor, this bridge did not allow pedestrian or bicycle traffic nor did it have an emergency lane for disabled vehicles. It did, however, provide increased mobility for marine traffic with a 49 foot vertical clearance. Once the third bridge was open to traffic this was demolished and is being used as a fishing reef in the Gulf.

In 1999 the Florida Legislature approved $86 million to replace the nearly 40 year old structure and construction began in October 2000 on the third Hathaway Bridge. The new state of the art high rise bridge actually consists of two bridges which carry three lanes of traffic and has an 80-feet wide bridge deck, including three travel lanes, wide shoulders (internal and external) and an 8 foot pedestrian/bicycle lane separated by a barrier wall. This bridge provides even more mobility for marine traffic with a 65 foot vertical clearance. With its unique design and aesthetic qualities, this will be a proud part of Bay County for many years to come.





May 1, 2013

Old Dutch Tavern Comes To The Beach Early to Mid 1930s


Frank Burghduff built the Old Dutch Tavern in the 1930s approximately 10 miles west of Panama City. Built entirely of Cyprus logs and all handmade roof shingles, this 2 ½ story building boasted a huge fireplace that took 113 tons of stone to complete. This was the beach’s first bar and one of the few man made attractions at the beach until further development began in the late 1930s. Although it also had a restaurant, by the 1960s it was known more as a nightclub that featured such acts as The Swinging Medallions, Bobby Goldsboro and the James Gang. Located near this site today is the Days Inn Panama City Beach.





May 1, 2013

Seminole Hills Plantation 1910s


Seminole Hills was Bay County’s largest plantation. This huge farming enterprise stretched over 35,000 acres between West Bay and Pine Log in northwest Bay County by 1921. The plantation had its executive sales office on 42nd Street, New York City and capital stock of $100,000. This vast horticultural development Company began purchasing land as early as 1905 and planting oranges and grapes along West Bay Creek. After success in Central Florida, Henry B. Plant, president of Seminole Hills Co., decided to try his hand at developing this section. He sold small farms and 100-acre lots on which paper shell pecans, Satsuma oranges, Carmen grapes and cluster blueberries could be grown. Investors could work the land alone or have the company grow their nuts and fruits and mail the owner the profits. By July 1926, about 8,000 acres had been sold. About 2,500 acres were planted in Satsuma oranges, grapes blueberries and pecans, with the oranges and grapes bringing the best results. The company guaranteed the 10-acre tracts that sold for $100 per acre as good fruitland. Investors mainly wanted the plantation to plant and grow the fruit. Those who came to visit Seminole Hills property were impressed with the company and looked for a great future. The center of the community boasted a post office, a school, 150 houses, a garage, a commissary, a two-story hotel and a church. But the most popular spot was the “Jelly House,” where workers converted the grapes and blueberries into jelly and jams. The women took pride in the many beautiful flower gardens they planted on their land. In 1929 the Plantation shipped eight carloads of grapes and manufactured 45,000 gallons of grape juice. In November it shipped its first carload of satsumas. But the thriving plantation did not last long. Cold weather killed many of the fruit trees. And the collapse of the stock market and lack of funds caused activity at the plantation to come to a halt. Many residents left deserting their land. In Oct. 1930, more than 40,000 acres of farmland were sold at a public auction, and the post office closed. The huge experiment was at an end. In the 1970’s, signs of the old buildings and some fruit trees were still visible. Today, Pine Log State Forest covers some of this land.





May 1, 2013

Sir Loin Morphs Into King Neptune 1978


Originally opened in 1967 as the Dolphin Restaurant, this business became the Sir Loin Steak House in 1971. Located at 10015 Highway 98, it was renamed the Sir Loin Family Restaurant in 1978 after a Viking like statue was built to promote their establishment. The 46 foot tall Sir Loin stood in front of the restaurant and was touted as the tallest statue in Florida. That claim, however, was debated by many, including those visiting Petticoat Junction directly across the road where a giant fiberglass pirate towered above Sir Loin. Later in the 1980s the restaurant went out of business for good and eventually became the Shell Island Gift Shop. To fit into his new role, Sir Loin became King Neptune complete with a 4 foot tall crown, bright pink vest, blue robe and trident.

As the beach developed into a thriving year round destination, efforts began to end King Neptune’s reign, deeming him as an eyesore. A battle ensued in which his most loyal subjects began a petition drive to keep the ruler intact, but in late 2004 his reign ended when he came tumbling down.





May 1, 2013

The Last Flight of Edwin Gorbet 1953


On September 27, 1953 a young pilot stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base reported for duty to perform a mid-day test flight of his F86-D Sabre jet. According to his twin sister Edith over 50 years later, it wasn’t even required, he was just getting in flight time. Just after noon that day Gorbet climbed aboard his jet and took off for his solo flight. Minutes later, lights on the control panel began flashing and he came to the alarming realization that his air compressor had caught fire and he was losing fuel. Gorbet knew that he would have to eject to save his life, but hesitated when he looked down and saw hundreds of students outside during their lunchbreak on the Jinks Junior High School campus. Despite Tyndall ordering Gorbet to eject, he chose to stay with his doomed jet in an attempt to get it over the waters of St. Andrews Bay. Moments later, it exploded in mid-air spreading debris over a large area and rattling windows for miles. He had managed to avoid the school grounds and saved many lives. The majority of the wreckage landed on the grounds of the Panama City Garden Club, ironically enough, very close to the site they had chosen for a future war memorial dedicated to servicemen who lost their lives serving our country. All of Bay County lauded his heroism and the Garden Club promised to add his name to their memorial.

Fast forward over 50 years later and a writer named Ken Brooks was revisiting this part of Bay County History where he brought to the attention of the Panama City Garden Club and the Historical Society of Bay County that Lt. Edwin Gorbet’s name had not been included on the memorial wall. Immediately working together to remedy this inadvertent oversight, the Panama City Garden Club and Historical Society of Bay County decided to do one better and dedicate a monument to Gorbet in September 2005 in a ceremony attended by nearly 1,000 people, including Jinks Middle School students . The inscription reads:

“In appreciation and dedication to Lt. Edwin Gorbet who sacrificed his life in a plane crash September 28, 1953 saving lives of students at Jinks Junior High School and area residents. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”





May 1, 2013

The Treasure Ship Restaurant Becomes A Memory 2010


The Treasure Ship was built in the Treasure Island Marina on Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach to resemble The Golden Hind, a galleon sailed by Sir Francis Drake, but at roughly twice the size. The iconic restaurant metaphorically set sail in 1978. Built by William and Thelma Nomberg, it was a strikingly beautiful structure that had the prettiest view of Grand Lagoon of any restaurant in the area. Every year, tens of thousands of visitors, not to mention locals, walked the decks and dined in the ship’s restaurants.

More than 30 years later on a sunny afternoon April 28,2010 smoke began to fill the restaurants in the huge ship. An electrical malfunction had set the wooden hull on fire. Everyone was successfully evacuated from the structure and thankfully, there were no injuries. The unique and beloved landmark, however, went up in flames and after some time, the decision was made not to rebuild.

The dream of Lisa Nomberg Todd’s parents has a special place in the hearts of the people that worked, dined and visited there. It was one of Bay County’s favorite destinations for decades and will be missed. Simply put…. “It had a personality.”





March 28, 2013

Bay County


Washington County was created as Florida’s 12th county on Dec. 29, 1825 and primarily from that county the 49th county, Bay, was created almost 100 years later. Demands for the division began in the mid-1800s with the promotion of St. Andrews.It was a fact that travels to the county seat at Vernon were difficult and inconvenient for citizens of the southern bay area.It can be also noted that the interests of promoters of the coast and the rural population of the northern communities were dissimilar.In 1908, when R.L. McKenzie was elected to the Florida Legislature from Washington County, he won on a no-division platform. The 1910 Census indicated a weakness in population numbers, so again McKenzie was elected to the 1911 Legislature on a no-division platform. By the next election the situation had changed. The development of a veteran’s community at Lynn Haven had created an influx of new settlers.In his diary McKenzie wrote, "We decided the 1913 session would be the time to make our real fight. We had a meeting in Panama City and endorsed (L.H.) Howell, our candidate." When Gov. Park Trammell addressed the opening session of the 1913 Legislature on April 8, Mr. Howell was in his seat to represent Washington County and introduce the bill that would create Bay County.

The bill to divide Washington County came up for a vote and was passed on April 24, 1913. The bill was signed by Gov. Trammell as the first legislative act "made valid by his signature" according to the Times Union. The pen used was a beautiful piece of tortoise shell bejeweled artistically with a gold point, purchased by Mrs. R.L. McKenzie on her honeymoon in Cuba. It was only natural that the county be called Bay since the area had been referred to by that name in the Panama City Pilot and other documents for several years. Birthday celebrations had to be put aside until the date of its legal birth, July 1, 1913. Actions had to be taken to accomplish the business necessary to launch the new county before that date.As a result of the June 7 election and the June 26 runoff, the following secured the first Bay County elected positions: Tax Collector J. B. Blackwell, Clerk of the Court W. H. Marshall, Sheriff W. A. Brown, County Judge D.K. Middleton, School Superintendent E.L. Brigman. Bay County Commissioners were: T. B. Youngblood, L.O. Gay, A. J. Gainer, T. C. Crawford and R.L. McKenzie.





March 28, 2013



The site of a lumber and turpentine business just prior to the Civil War, Callaway had grown to a modest municipality within Bay County.E. G. Langston was granted land around the bayou in the mid-1850s. When Langston died a short time later, the land was passed on to his heirs who sold the land to Pitt Milner Callaway, a Baptist minister from Eufaula, Alabama. Callaway had a vision for the development of the property and soon set up a saw mill there. The bayou and settlement were soon called by his name. Storms destroyed the mill and Callaway’s dreams in 1858 and he returned to the ministry. Years later when the land boom of the 1880s began, Callaway’s dreams were rekindled and he returned to the area to build another saw mill.Plans to further his development did not materialize and in his old age, he turned the property over to his daughter Ella Carlisle. She and her husband, Moses, built their home there and worked to promote the community.In 1886, James Fox, his wife Ettie and their children arrived from the north to make their home in Callaway. She determined that children in Callaway should have their own school and led the efforts to build one on land that had been donated in 1911. The school operated until 1936 and served many needs of the community.It was in 1936 that Callaway was first incorporated and Albert Reese Patterson Sr. elected its first mayor.Soon thereafter the city was ''''inactivated'''' when a controversy arose over the relocation of the school. In 1959, the city was ''''reactivated'''' and when elections were held C.O. Allen became the city''''s second mayor.





March 28, 2013

Lynn Haven


William Harcourt Lynn Sr., founder of Lynn Haven, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 7, 1854 to Irish immigrant parents. A man of many abilities, he was employed as an attorney, real estate broker,insurance executive, state representative, railroad builder, publisher, and land developer during his lifetime. In 1896, Lynn was president of the Costa Rica-Pacific Railroad Company which constructed rail lines from San Jose, Costa Rica to the Pacific coast.In the early 1900s, he and his large family lived in New Rochelle, New York. During that time, he was president of Liberty Life Insurance Company, a director of the Union Bank of Brooklyn and nominated for a seat in Congress by the Democratic Party. In 1908, William Lynn was president of the Grand Army of the Republic’s newspaper, The National Tribune. The following year, Lynn and a group of investors organized the Seminole Land and Investment Company for the purpose of establishing a veteran’s colony at St. Cloud, Florida. That same year Mr. R. L. McKenzie of Bay County, Florida attended a meeting of railroad men in Philadelphia where he learned of the colony and William Lynn. He arranged to meet Lynn and encouraged him to visit the Gulf Coast where he would see the most "wonderful undeveloped sections on earth."

Lynn accepted McKenzie''''s invitation and arrived in Panama City in June 1910. The St. Andrews Bay Development Company was organized and by December the company announced ''''Lynn Haven'''' would be the name of the new veteran''''s colony.Vast tracts were purchased from owners such as A.J. Gay, R. L. McKenzie, B. P. Jones of Valdosta, Sale-Davis Company and the German –American Lumber Company. Soon the town began to take shape, almost identical to the blueprint of St. Cloud, and veterans poured into the area.





March 28, 2013

Mexico Beach


At the beginning of the 1900s the strip of coastline now known as Mexico Beach was best appreciated by fishermen who could not resist the schools of fish who migrated the waters each spring and fall. When Highway 98 was completed and opened in May of 1929, it provided access to visitors, but those who came found little in the way of accommodations and a somewhat primitive environment. Cows and wildlife were to be found even on the beaches. However, Gordon Parker and his cousin, W.T. McGowin spent $65,000 to purchase some 1800 acres along the beach in 1946. It was difficult to promote this vast tract of sand that had no agricultural value, but they persisted and organized the Mexico Beach Corporation. Parker’s son, Charlie opened the Mexico Beach Grocery Store. In 1951, McGowin died and Gordon became sole owner of the property. George G. Tapper built “Tapper Pier” at the corner of 37th Street and Highway 98. The food and dance floor there were a big hit. Tapper dug the Mexico Beach canal and Mexico Beach Corporation built the water tower in the mid-1950s.A 25,000-foot grass air strip, built by the Parker’s real estate company, made it convenient for cottage owners to fly in from Atlanta and Birmingham.In 1961, Gordon’s health began to fail and son Charles bought his father’s business and carried it on for the next 10 years. Mexico Beach was incorporated in 1966 and Charles M. Parker was elected the city’s first mayor. He died in 2003 and continued to be an assest to Bay County and Mexico Beach. His contributions to his community long outlasted his life.





March 28, 2013



In 1837, brothers James and Harry Watson bought most of the bayfront land from Dyers Point to Watson Bayou. They built a sawmill on the southwest side of the bayou and began harvesting the timber on their land.Large shipments of lumber went west to New Orleans and east to St. Joseph, but when the harvest was done, the brothers left the area. Over the next few years other families settled the shoreline to fish. In the late 1880s, Henry Bovis constructed a mill on Watson Bayou and called his business the St. Andrews Lumber Company. The mill drew a large number of workers who began to develop a settlement of families around the site.Bovis sold his company to a German syndicate in 1901 and it became the German-American Lumber Company.Hundreds of workers then moved to Millville to work at the expanding facility. With the new owners'''' expansion, the mill''''s production went from 20,000 to 80,000 board feet per day. Although the mill burned in 1906, it was quickly rebuilt and back in operation less than a year later producing 100,000 board feet per day. Millville continued to grow as the mill did and in a 1908 story, the Panama City Pilot refers to "the thriving little town of Millville." Ships from around the world docked there to load lumber and turpentine.The United States government took over operation of the mill at the beginning of World War I in response to suspected German propaganda on the property.Under the name the American Lumber Company, the mill continued to operate until 1919 when it was sold to W. C. Sherman and Minor C. Keith. They renamed the facility, the St. Andrews Bay Lumber Company. Timber supplies decreased as did the demand for lumber during the 1920s. The mill was closed in 1930 and one year later burned to the ground.

According to the 1920 Census, the population of Millville had reached 1,887 and was the largest town on St. Andrew Bay. Residents were surprised when in a special legislative session in 1925, Bay County representative, J. Ed. Stokes, introduced a bill to combine three municipalities within the county. In 1926, Millville, St. Andrews and Bay Harbor were annexed into Panama City.





March 28, 2013

Panama City


George West, considered the father of Panama City, was a Chicago native who became acquainted with the bay area while visiting relatives in the settlement known as St. Andrews.As early as 1887, he became a vacation home owner there himself.By 1902, he became convinced that the time had come "when something could be done toward developing the magnificent natural deep water harbor of St. Andrews Bay and exploiting the adjacent country."With that purpose in mind, he organized the Gulf Coast Development Company in May 1905.In 1906, West moved from Chicago to Wisconsin and from there to Florida where he built a home in the Old Town section of St. Andrews on a bluff overlooking the beautiful bay. The development company opened an office in a small wooden building on the waterfront in a community named Harrison. They began to buy vast tracts of land in Harrison, in a community named Gay and along Massalina Bayou. Recognizing the importance of transportation in developing properties, West sought to interest some railroad in building a line to St. Andrews Bay.His efforts paid off when Mr. A.B. Steel agreed to make Harrison the southernmost terminus on his rail line from Dothan, Alabama and the first train arrived in June of 1908.

The continued development of the community was the focus of West’s business and social activities.He was instrumental in the incorporation of Panama City. He began publishing the city’s newspaper, the Panama City Pilot, in 1907. Other credits include the organization of the first school, bank and telephone company. Upon his death in 1926, George West was memorialized in these words, "a loyal and energetic supporter of every movement inaugurated for the betterment of Panama City the St. Andrews Bay Country and all West Florida."





March 28, 2013

Panama City Beach


Panama City Beach stretches the Gulf of Mexico with snow white sands like no other in the world and sparkling blue-green waters. History shows that the City of Panama City grew from a series of beach developments created by aspiring entrepreneurs. During the first decades of the 1900s, most people saw no purpose for beach development, but as America’s population began to seek sites away from their homes to enjoy leisure time, a few saw its potential. Such a man was G. M. Thomas for whom Thomas Drive was named. Considered by some as the first developer of Panama City Beach, he purchased land there in the 1920s and constructed the Panama City Beach Hotel as well as a number of rental cottages and a small pier. J.E. Churchwell constructed Long Beach Resort. Harry Edwards built Larkway Villas and the Lahans developed Laguna Beach. In 1939, a post office was approved for Panama City Beach and A.W. Pledger became the first postmaster.

On May 11, 1953 the towns and communities were Long Beach, Edgewater, Gulf Beach, Panama City Beach and Dutchville. On May12, 1953, Playville and Julia were added. On June 30, 1959 West Panama City Beach was added. On August 12, 1970 Long Beach, Edgewater, old Panama City Beach and West Panama City Beach became Panama City Beach.





March 28, 2013



Well before the Civil War, William Loftin came to the shores of St. Andrews Bay. He worked as a surveyor and revenue inspector for the port of St. Andrews. Loftin, Henry Riviere, and J.M. White, earlier settlers of the area, planned to build a city named Austerlitz near the present day site of Parker.It is said that Loftin envisioned this city as the capital of the territory, but the port city of St. Joseph was selected for that distinction. Around 1836, William established a ferry at Riviere’s Bluff. The ferry was an important part of the land route known as the ‘military road’ that linked Apalachicola, St. Joseph and Marianna to the Spanish Trail.

The area was known as Loftin’s Fish Camp.When William Loftin died in 1845 and was buried in the community cemetery that he had established, he left the future to his children. Daughter Ann Loftin married a young man who had come to the Florida coast by ship from Germany. Peter Ferdinand was taken in by a family named Parker and in turn he took the name Parker for his surname.He and his wife Ann operated a trading business between Austerlitz and inland communities as far as Dothan, Alabama where they exchanged salt fish for farm produce. The small community continued to grow and prosper, attracting new families after the Civil War ended. Another family named Parker, that of Dr. W.H. Parker, was among the new settlers. A post office was established due to the efforts of the two Parker families and around 1887, the name Austerlitz was changed to Parker reflecting the influence of these two families. As the population of the bay area continued to grow so did Parker. In 1931, the Southern Kraft Corporation opened a large paper mill and the Air Force opened Tyndall Field in 1941. Almost a century after the death of William Loftin, the community’s first civic organization, the Parker Men’s Club, was organized and began their history of service.It was under their leadership that Parker was incorporated and granted its charter July 7, 1967.





March 28, 2013



William Gray, owner of Gray Lumber Co., is frequently referred to as the Father of Springfield, a city that covers 4.6 square miles and has a population of almost 9,000. His business was located in an incorporated area north and east of Panama City and west of Callaway. Gray hired engineers to plat the half square mile of land and then called together 30 or so area residents. They voted to incorporate and selected the name Springfield for the proposed town. The legislature passed a bill to create the town in February 1935. Sam Roberts was elected the first mayor. When the charter was amended in 1987, Springfield became a city instead of a town and extended its boundaries. The major industry of Springfield is the paper mill which opened in 1931. It was owned by the International Paper Co., a division of Southern Kraft. Ownership passed to Smurfit-Stone. Its current owner is Rock-Tenn.





March 28, 2013

St. Andrews


Promotion of St. Andrews can be studied as far back as 1824. William Loftin and retired Georgia governor John Clark were the two earliest yearround residents. The first company to meet with moderate success in promoting the area was the St. Andrews Bay Land Company. Established in 1832, this company sold 75- by 150-foot waterfront lots along present-day Beach Drive. Those property owners were primarily summer people who built cottages, docks and steps leading down to the beach. During the Civil War, these same beaches and bayou shores became a center of salt production for the Confederate forces. In an 1863 encounter between Union scouts seeking fresh water and Confederate saltworkers, the Union suffered two fatalities. In retaliation for the ''''skirmish at Old Town'''' the Union vessel fired on St. Andrews and burned all 32 buildings. The settlement began when Lambert Ware bought a large tract of land around St. Andrews Bay and by 1882, he and his brother Frank developed a booming trade business along the northern Gulf Coast. Efforts to bring a railroad into the area inspired a scheme to sell real estate by mail order.The St. Andrews Bay Railroad, Land and Mining Company, known locally as the Cincinnati Company for their main office location, hoped to bring a rail line from North Bay to St. Andrews. By mail they offered 25x82 foot lots for $1.25 to potential buyers throughout the states.Prices increased as hundreds bought lots and construction on homes began. In 1886, J.H. Hamilton began publishing the area''''s first weekly newspaper, the St. Andrews Messenger. Unfortunately by the 1890s, the much-touted railroad was no closer to reality and a number of settlers left their property and moved elsewhere. The town did organize in 1907 and J.H. Drummond, a large land owner, was elected first mayor.The first railroad did arrive in 1914 as a spur off the Atlanta and St. Andrews Bay Railroad.Fish were shipped north while thousands of visitors travelled south from Dothan, Alabama, to enjoy one day one dollar excursions to the bay. By 1920, St. Andrews boasted a population of 1,310, was a designated port of entry and a weather station. When the state legislature met in a special session in 1925, they passed a bill introduced by J. Ed Stokes, representative from Bay County, to combine St. Andrews and Millville with Panama City. The merger became official in 1926.





March 1, 2013

Alabama Textiles 1954


This photo shows the employees (over 200) in front of the Alabama Textiles Shirt Company that was located here from 1947 to 1958 on 15th Street and Foster Avenue in Panama City. When World War II ended and the troops came home, men returned to the workforce leaving many women suddenly unemployed. This business was brought to Bay County to furnish employment for women in the post World War II economy. They made shirts for Arrow, J.C. Penney and Manhattan. On the picture is written “ALATEX” – Panama City Plant – March 1954.

Framed photo donated by the Nichols family.





March 1, 2013

Bob Jones College 1927


Ground was broken for Bob Jones College December 1, 1926 at the present day College Point area. Officially founded in 1927 by evangelist Bob Jones, Sr., the co-ed college operated in Bay County until May 31, 1933 when the last commencement took place. The college then moved to Cleveland, Tennessee and later to its present site in Greenville, South Carolina in 1947 where it became Bob Jones University.

Mr. Jones had become convinced that God wanted him to start a university where old-time religion and evangelism were emphasized, and where high academic standards were maintained. With the help of his good friend Robert McKenzie of Panama City, he was able to obtain the charter for a new college in Bay County and secure a site where developer Minor C. Keith was completing work on a new golf community (College Point) and wanted to form a partnership with Mr. Jones and the new college.

Although support for the college was enthusiastic and early land sales were a success, real estate slowed down in the late 1920’s and then the great depression hit. Mr. Keith pulled out of the venture and eventually died. Soon after, the college was no longer able to meet its financial commitments and sold the Bay County site and moved to Tennessee in 1933.





March 1, 2013

Free Masons 1914


Free Masons lay cornerstones in support of buildings that have to do with learning and the search for intellectual light. Since Bay County was formed on April 24, 1913 the Free Masons have laid five cornerstones on buildings in Bay County. The first cornerstone was placed at Panama City High School December 4, 1914. Nearly 800 school children, teachers and principals from Millville, St. Andrews and Mooretown participated. The students from Millville and Mooretown arrived on the steamship Tarpon to join the other students and the Masons in the march from the marina to the school site on Harrison Avenue and 7th Street.

This building is still in use today as a school by the First Presbyterian Church. The second cornerstone was placed at the Bay County Courthouse December 22, 1914; the third at the Acme Masonic Temple at 230 McKenzie Avenue; the fourth at the Bay County Public Library building at 23 W. Government and the fifth at the new Bay County Public Library at 898 W. 11th Street.





March 1, 2013

FSU PC 1982


Soon after local efforts began in the early 1970s to bring four-year degree programs to Bay County, the University of West Florida was directed to establish an educational center in Panama City, and classes began in the old Wainwright shipyard buildings during summer 1972. In 1976 the County Commission bought 17.5 acres located between Gulf Coast State College and the beautiful waters of North Bay and deeded the land to the State for use by the center. In 1981 the commission donated an additional 2.54 acres and three quadriplex buildings. In fall 1982, administrative responsibility was transferred to Florida State University. Because current facilities would not meet future enrollment demands, ground was broken on June 23, 1983 for the $9.1 million Phase I development of FSU Panama City. On March 22, 1986, the facilities were formally dedicated and the administrative building was named after Senator Dempsey J. Barron, who was key in the establishment of FSU Panama City. In March 1987 an additional 5.62 acres along the bay were deeded to the State for use by the campus, making it 28 acres in size. A new conference center was completed in January 2000, a new Administrative Services Center in 2007, and the Holley Academic Center opened in 2009. This 3-story facility provides state-of-the-art classrooms, an online library and learning resource center, academic laboratories and an impressive 500-seat multi-purpose lecture hall/community room. In 2012 the Board of Trustees approved a four-year academic plan for FSU Panama City, allowing admission of the first freshman class in Fall 2013. By 2016, it is anticipated that enrollment will top 2000 students.

Photo depicts 1983 groundbreaking ceremony. Dempsey Barron throwing shovel of dirt; Dr. Barbara Newell, Chancellor; Dr. Bernard Sliger, President of FSU; Gerry Clemons, Mayor of Panama City second from right; Pete Holman, Superintendent of Schools second from left.





March 1, 2013

Goat Auction 2003


On June 27, 2003 the winning bidder got the sheriff’s goat. An obscure 75 year old Florida Statute 588.17 was enforced in a public auction for unclaimed livestock on the Bay County Courthouse steps. A big deal was made out of a little goat as Sheriff Guy Tunnell organized an auction to rid his department of a public menace - “Bluebeard” the billy goat. In blue overalls and a 10 gallon hat, Tunnell moved the bidding along at a quick pace. When the final bid was shouted from the courthouse steps - $250.00 – the crowd went silent. Tunnell repeated the bid, banged the gavel once, twice….SOLD!





March 1, 2013

Jetties 1935


Until the new pass was cut in 1934, the channel from the Gulf of Mexico into St. Andrews Bay was too shallow for large boats and steamers to enter far enough inside the bay to dock. To make St. Andrews Bay a viable port for business interests, a project was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers to widen and deepen the entrance channel to St. Andrews Bay.

Work was done from 1935 to 1937 to make this approach channel that was to be 450 feet wide and 29 feet deep, and protected by two jetties, each approximately 100 feet long. At that time there were no roads to the spot of the construction, so workers had to make a 6 mile boat trip each way to get to work every day. The many tons of marble and granite were transported from Birmingham and Sylacuaga, Alabama by train to Bay Harbor. From there the materials were transported by barge to the job site.

During early 1937 a short railroad, approximately 3,100 feet long was built from the west beach to the jetties to facilitate work on this project. In the late 1970s amateur Gerald Thompson created sculptures of a mermaid and Neptune in some beautiful pieces of white marble on the jetty rocks. This is still touted as the only marble channel in the world.





March 1, 2013

Miracle Strip Tower Demolition 1995


The two hundred foot tall tower was opened in April 1966 and was officially known as Top o’ the Strip. There was a snack bar and souvenir shop in the base. An elevator took tourists to the top for an unforgettable view of Panama City Beach and the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. By 1995 the tower had fallen into a state of disrepair and the elevator had stopped running. The landfall of Hurricane Opal in October 1995 brought new concerns about the stability and safety of the tower and the decision was made to bring the aging iconic tower to its knees on December 8, 1995.





March 1, 2013

Patton and His Troops 1940


General Patton and his troops camped in what is now Oakland Terrace School. Tanks and troops from the Second Armored Division, which has been called the world’s “most powerful striking force” by its commander, Brigadier-General George S. Patton, Jr. crossed narrow rickety wooden bridges that spanned the bay prior to the beginning of World War II.

The more than 1,000 tanks and other fighting vehicles including armored scout cars and airplanes arrived in the afternoon of December 13, 1940 after a march from Fort Benning, Georgia. Between 6,000 and 7,000 troops camped here for three days to give them a chance to rest before moving westward toward a destination known only to its officers. Their short stay in Panama City gave citizens a chance to see one of two complete “Panzer” divisions of the regular army that had been developed to date under the new defense plan.





March 1, 2013

Watson Bayou Bridge 1965


International Paper, South Kraft Division, Panama City Mill, 1 South Everitt Avenue. This newly constructed bridge over Watson Bayou provided a new and much needed access to one of the mill’s main entry roads. The project was unique in that no state or federal funds were used on the construction or financing of the bridge. It was solely a joint partnership between Panama City and Bay County. This July 1965 photo depicts the ribbon cutting of the new 2 lane bridge over Watson Bayou at the southern end of East Avenue.

From L-R: Ellis Fowhand, Chamber of Commerce; Henry Kirkland, Panama City Commissioner; Ira Hill, Bay County Commissioner; J.W. Lowery, Panama City Mill Manager.





March 1, 2013

WMBB 13 1977


In October 1973, WDTB, named after Denver T. Brannon its founder, began broadcasting TV programs for NBC on Channel 13. Four years later, WDTB Channel 13 changed its name to WMBB, for “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches”. WMBB 13 later became the ABC affiliate for Bay County and surrounding areas.





January 31, 2013

Bay County Elects the First County Commissioners


One of the priorities of the new Bay County was the election of county government representatives in 1913. One of the most important was the election of the first group of Bay County Commissioners. Those first commissioners included:

R.L. McKenzie: Panama City, District 1

T.E. Crawford: Cromanton, District 2

L.G. Gay: Lynn Haven, District 3

T.B. Young: Youngstown, District 4

A.F. Gainer: Southport, District 5

Pictured: R.L. McKenzie





January 31, 2013

Deer Point Dam Construction


In addition to completion of the intracoastal waterway, the construction of Deer Point Dam in 1961 is another important project that changed the topography of Bay County. Completed in 1961, Deer Point Dam achieved the objective of assuring the county would have an abundant water supply for future economic growth.It also provides important recreational facilities. It remains a favorite fishing destination for both freshwater and saltwater species. The construction also spurred subsequent development of the area that was previously less sparsely populated.

Pictured: Newly completed dam in 1963.





January 31, 2013

Gulf Coast Community Hospital Arrives


Gulf Coast Medical Center opened under the name of Gulf Coast Community Hospital on January 3, 1977. Local physicians, under the leadership of Drs. Tim Smith and James Poyner, obtained a certificate to operate a 156-bed hospital which substantially added to the capacity of the community. The total capacity prior to opening was about 170 beds spit between three existing hospitals. The project was sold to Healthcare Corporation of America (HCA), completed by them and subsequently renamed Gulf Coast Medical Center.

Pictured: Groundbreaking at Gulf Coast Hospital in 1976. From L to R, Dr. Dixon McCloy, Mayor M.B. Miller, Unknown, County Commissioner James Faircloth.





January 31, 2013

Hurricane Opal Devastates Bay County


Hurricane Opal came ashore October 4, 1995 and inflicted major damage to Bay County.It was the strongest storm since hurricane Eloise in 1975.Many residents evacuated and were unable to return home until roads were reopened. Once they arrived home, they discoveredthe degree of damage their property sustained. Some had major flood damage from the storm surge or trees falling while others only had to clean their property of windblown debris. Many gulffront buildings were completely destroyed.

Pictured: Typical of the heavy damage along Panama City Beach. Photo courtesy of the Panama City News Herald.





January 31, 2013

Intracoastal Waterway Completion


Transportation of freight and people by water was important to our early development and the completion of the intracoastal waterway was an important infrastructure development. The intracoastal waterway was completed during the 1920s. Barge traffic, particularly from points west, could now be moved without traveling the more dangerous Gulf waters. For example, oyster shells and asphalt were moved by barge to Brotheration Bayou on the south side of West Bay to pave the first coastal highway, U.S. 98, now Front Beach Road. One of those barges caught fire and exploded near the mouth of Botheration Bayou and the remains are still there.

Pictured: Blackwater dredge with accompanying houseboat for the crew.





January 31, 2013