Unravel the Vibrant History of Panama City Beach

Heading out for a vacation? Looking for a place to go? If you love jewel-colored waters, beaches made of fine sand, and a town with a rich history, then Panama City Beach is the place to be! This popular vacation destination has a rich history you can learn about when you’re here. Before you come, read all about it the history in this quick backstory of the town.

Early History

Native Americans occupied the area that is today known as Panama City Beach, but Spanish explorers began to arrive in the 1500s. Following the Spanish exploration of the area, Europeans and eventually Americans began to settle in the area. This settling happened over the course of many hundreds of years. 

Early explorers in Florida named many of the waterways and navigational landmarks after Catholic saints, so St. Andrew’s Bay was named for its patron Saint, Andrew.

Explorers built forts and outposts in the area, but Florida was considered a lawless place until it began to be settled by soldiers and officers in the 1820s through the 1850s. In 1825, the port of St. Andrew became a Port of Entry for shipments of beef, pork, cotton, cattle, lard, and lumber. 

During this period, it was occasionally discussed that this part of Florida could be sold to or incorporated into Alabama. Residents of the area took issue and threatened to leave their homes if this was the case. Eventually, the panhandle was incorporated into Florida Territory. Florida was eventually admitted to the Union in 1845. 

Growth and Change

a view of a pier from the beach at st andrews park

In the middle of the 19th century, the area around St. Andrew Bay was growing rapidly. The fertile land in the area was an excellent location for successful agricultural families to build summer cottages and homes.

The area had a tavern, post office, and small shops. That growth stopped during the Civil War, and all 32 homes in the area were destroyed due to fire. The abundance of fish in the area helped bring the economy back following the Civil War. 

The area changed names several times. The town was known as Gay, then Floriopolis, then Park Resort, then Harrison. Panama City was formed in 1905 in an attempt to attract the United Fruit Company to the unincorporated area where Panama City is today. United Fruit Company did not come to Panama City, but the name stuck anyway. 

In 1908, the Bay Line on the St. Andrews Bay Railway was formed. By this time, the area had a population of 600 people, then the Gulf Coast Highway (highway 98) was completed in the 1930’s. Little towns and cities along the Panhandle were connected to one another, as were the beaches as well. 

In the late 1930s, tourism began to develop and the beaches in the area began to draw people from all over the area, then during World War II, the United States military developed a gunnery school called Tyndall Field. Among the students at the school was Clark Gable, who played Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.

The area continued to have a strong military presence throughout World War II, and soon an airfield was developed. By the 1960s, the area had a population of around 30,000 people. Eventually, the beach became the backdrop for the towering condominiums and hotels that are now essential to the area’s tourism. 

Interesting Things to Know About Panama City Beach, FL 

  1. Site of many shipwrecks. Panama City has been the site of many shipwrecks, including the Gray Ghost and the Empire Mica. This makes it a popular destination for people who enjoy exploring shipwrecks. 
  2. It is the location of a U.S. Navy Dive School. From deep sea divers to U.S. Army engineer divers, this dive school teaches the best of the best to dive in on-site simulation facilities, in a large open pool, and in the ocean itself.  
  3. The area draws tourists all year round, even at New Year’s. In recent years, Panama City Beach has become a draw for people celebrating New Year’s. They come to the beach to watch the 800-pound Beach Ball drop to the beach and ring in the New Year. 

Want to know more about Panama City Beach? Come see the area for yourself! You’ll learn more just. by visiting our town and seeing the beautiful beaches and attractive businesses and homes for yourself.