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Bay County Historical Society’s History Museum

By Dr. Glenda Walters, Photography by Jordan Williams

Push open the doors to 133 Harrison and you will be instantly reminded that people have passed through these same doors for the last 85 years. As new tenants, the Historical Society of Bay County Museum are happy to be in a historic setting. No longer obscured by the mass merchandise of a general store, high ceilings and gleaming wood floors frame highly organized exhibits that provide a glimpse into Bay County life through
the years.

The north side of the building provides a vision of days gone by. Step back in time as the first venue depicts Bay County’s true first industry, fishing. Early accounts of life along St. Andrews Bay describe settlers who provided their families with food and income by fishing in local waters well before the Civil War. The boat, nets and gear necessary for survival in this industry during its earliest stages remind us that boat building also played an important role in the local economy. Back then, mail, supplies, students, and visitors were delivered to their destination by water. In the century that followed, recreational fishing and boating drew visitors and promoted tourism as charter fleets filled local marinas. The vintage skis bring back sweet memories to a generation that grew up plowing St. Andrew Bay waters behind locally produced Carter Craft boats.

An inviting rocker chair draws you into the next venue. Pretend to sit for a moment in the family room with a good book as you listen to the rhythm of the treadle Singer sewing machine.   A hand sewn quilt in the intricate cathedral pattern adorns the wall; a richly colored braided rug covers the floor. Learn how this rug was created from paper mill cast-offs.

Now stop for a moment at the barber’s chair. Close your eyes and imagine chatting and socializing with the other regulars as you wait your turn. Try to conjure the sounds and smells of powder and bay rum, hear the buzz of the electric clippers and the drone of conversation. Here, one could get the latest weather report or a few chuckles at the latest joke. At election time, the conversation would get loud and lively. This exhibit is one of the most authentic in the museum. The chair, mirrors, child’s booster and the winding barber pole were donated by the family of Bobby Carswell who opened his first shop in the Marie Hotel on Harrison Avenue. A barber for over 40 years, his last shop was on the city marina. Many a local resident can recall three generations of their family sitting in
that chair.

The most popular exhibit at the museum, the Bay Line, will take you back to the time when passengers purchased their tickets at the window and waited to board the next train. This exhibit features not only items familiar to the traveler, but the tools and equipment used by the railroad workers as well. Numerous pictures and paintings portray the evolution of the mighty engine through the years. Model trains, so popular at the museum’s Christmas Past exhibit last year, are running again owing to the generous sponsorship of James Kirkland and his son David.

As you roam about the building, enjoy the lovely J. W. Zelm mural of Florida Pines as it sets a background for the little black buggy, typical transportation of the rural doctor as he made his house calls.

The last venue displays a collection of local artists’ work featuring scenes from Panama City’s past. The Bay Line Depot, Commercial Bank, Cove Hotel, various homes and the very building housing the museum are brought to life again.

A good museum does not remain static. Soon, the Historical Society of Bay County Museum will offer a continuous showing of their video collection in a comfortable setting. A planned hands-on section dedicated to children will be another welcome addition. The venues described will be changed regularly to reflect other times and places in our community. Some exhibits may grow while others will be placed in storage to give room for new ones.

Exhibits highlighting people, businesses or events in our area’s past are also planned for the future. The museum would welcome sponsorship by families or organizations that have collections and funding to share. Members, volunteer docents and exhibit sponsors are being sought. There is always a need for new research, additional collections and fresh ideas. With the dedicated volunteers and loyal following that the Historical Society of Bay County Museum has drawn in the past two years, imaginative suggestions and proposals abound.

When your visit ends and the doors at 133 Harrison close behind you, please remember that your experience was provided by volunteers dedicated to the preservation of Bay County history. The museum has no paid employees and no revenue other than what is generated through memberships, donations, and gifts from foundations or civic organizations. Find out more online
at Bayhistorysociety.net

Dr. Glenda Walters

Glenda Walters, born and raised in Atlanta, has called Lynn Haven, Florida home since 1965. She began her teaching career at Mosley High School in Lynn Haven and earned a Ph. D. in History from Florida State University. After retirement from Bay County Schools, she continued to teach as an adjunct instructor at the Florida State University Panama City campus and at Gulf Coast Community College/Gulf Coast State College. Dr. Walters has published two books in the Arcadia Press Images of America series. In 2013, she was appointed to the Florida Humanities Council. She is also serving in her second term as president of the Historical Society of Bay County and is active in numerous other local organizations.

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