The History of Panama City Beach
In 1970, the municipalities of Long Beach, Panama City Beach, Edgewater, Dutchville, Playville, Julia and West Panama City Beach were all consolidated under one umbrella: Panama City Beach. Legislators responsible for the incorporation included Representatives Earl Hutto and John Robert Middlemas, and Senator Dempsey Barron. The town held its first election in 1970, and Dan Russell was elected mayor. The first commissioners included Sam Scott, Joe Patterson, Barney Gray, and Carl Wiselogel Jr.
The beaches began to grow and to attract more and more tourists. The first visitors to the beach were families, mostly from southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia. Soon, summer tourists from all over the country were discovering Panama City Beach. During winter months, however, area beach were virtually deserted. It wasn't until the late 1970s that Panama City Beach became a year 'round vacation destination. That's when the Canadians, who had previously chosen south Florida as their winter retreat of choice, began coming to Bay County in large numbers. Today, of course, Panama City attracts hundreds of thousands of high school and college students during spring break. Other annual attraction include the Gulf Coast Triathlon, and the Indian Summer Seafood Festival.
A 40-acre tract was leased from the St. Joe Paper Company on Back Beach Road for a city park in 1977. The complex includes lighted athletic fields, playground equipment, and a civic center. The complex was named Frank Brown Park, in honor of the principal of Hutchison Beach Elementary School. Brown had been an active volunteer in the city recreation program.
In the 1960s, beach businesses were members of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce. At a session of the Bay County Hotel and Restaurant Association in Panama City in 1968, however, J.R. Arnold expressed a desire to form a separate chamber for the beach. In January of 1969, a meeting of beach businesses owners was held at the Holiday Inn, and Beach Chamber of Commerce was formed. Dick Arnold was elected the group's first president. An induction banquet was held at Captain Anderson Restaurant in March of that year.
Panama City Beach Councilmen approved the formation of a Tourist Development Council in 1979, for the purpose of advertising the beach and encouraging tourist development.
Many improvements have been made to the city hall complex. A jail was constructed in 1972, followed by a civic center. The administration building was renovated and enlarged, and named after George Cowgill, former mayor of West Panama City Beach.
The beaches east of Panama City Beach were opened up for development with the construction of a paved road extending from Panama City Beach east to former Brown's Beach, then north to the Front Beach Road. Bay County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution March 31, 1953, to name the road Thomas Drive after Gideon M. Thomas. He--along with wife Dolly--were the first to develop the beach at the west end of this road. A dedication ceremony was held as soon as the road was complete.
Beach erosion has plagued Panama City Beach for a long time. Recent hurricanes have only made the problem worse. In the last few year--through the efforts of Panama City Beach officials--$20 million has been spent on a beach re-nourishment program.