By Sarah Hough, Photography By Rick Cooper
Traveling tree-shaded Beach Drive from St. Andrews to the Cove, views on both sides of the road are spectacular. The magnificent ever-changing waters of St. Andrews Bay lap the shore on the south side of the road and historic homes adorn the north side. Continuing on Beach Drive a few blocks from downtown Panama City, you arrive at 501 E. Beach Drive, an attractive, sunny, light yellow house with large comfortable porches, sheltered by majestic oak trees, overlooking the sparkling waters of St. Andrews Bay.
Lewis Henry Howell and his wife Eula Lassiter Howell built the house in 1909. Lewis Howell was in the turpentine business in the Vernon area. He served the area as the Washington County representative (Bay County was formed in 1913) and was the first State Representative from Bay County. He also served as Bay County’s State Senator from 1929-1932. He was Panama City’s fourth mayor, serving from 1915 through 1917.
Current owners, Mike and Cuyler Hobbs, say the house has sheltered members of the Howell/Hobbs family for over 100 years. Mike’s mother, Nellie Howell Hobbs, was born in the house in 1919 and died there in 1996. Although the house has changed owners over the years, it has always remained in the family. Five generations have lived and raised their children in the house. Mike Hobbs states his fondest memory of growing up in the house is seeing his grandmother in her rocking chair, always watchful of what was going on.
Major renovations have been made to the house. An addition was built in 1935-1940. The front entrance was changed from the 2nd Place side to the Beach Drive side. A porch and a carport were added.
In addition to the structural changes, the Hobbs family has made substantial cosmetic improvements to the house. Under her careful and artistic eye, Cuyler chose all of the paint colors and closely supervises everything that is done. The kitchen cabinets are original to the house. Cuyler fondly shares family lore “Mike’s mother always cooked Sunday lunch to eat here after church. One time his brother-in-law told her that her roast beef was cooked too much. She never cooked Sunday lunch again!”
Cuyler Hobbs’ family was originally from Georgia where they were plantation owners. Her father was a Dental Surgeon in Port St. Joe. Many of her family heirlooms have found a new home at the E. Beach Drive address. Extensive collections of silver and china were passed down from her family and Mike’s family. Mike and Cuyler chose rugs and some of the furniture in New Orleans. The impressive dining room and foyer chandeliers were in the house when they bought it.
The Hobbs family has always been attracted by the waters of the Bay. Mike’s favorite place is the comfortable porch, watching the sunset.
The family all enjoy living so close to the water and watching the activity, including seeing the different boats and watching people walk up and down the shore. In over 100 years, the house has never flooded as it is situated 13 feet above sea level.
It is easy to envision the happy laughter that has filled the rooms of this residence throughout the years. The children kept the house busy at all times when they were growing up. Today, Mike, Jr. owns and operates an engineering firm, Inland Construction and Engineering, and Matt works with him. The company fulfills projects all over the east coast. Mike and Cuyler have four grandchildren, three boys and one girl, 13, 14, 16 and 17. Cuyler says “We enjoy seeing our grandchildren and spending time with them.” They also enjoy their two dogs, a white lab named Sandy and a chocolate lab, Sam. You can only imagine the noise, laughter and tumult at family gatherings.
Mike laughs and recounts a story “I had an old black dog that would retrieve anything. I would train him at night by throwing a tennis ball into the bay. That dog would always bring it back. One day I got a bow and arrow and put the ball on the arrow and shot it out over the bay. The dog took off and stayed gone two hours. I got worried but that old dog did come back with the ball!”
Just like the house itself, Mike has been steadfast throughout the years. He has been in the construction business for 45 years. He has been involved with several construction projects throughout the community. Bay Oaks condos, Briarwood, Delwood, Florida State University (first phase), Largo Mar, the Bay County Court House, and Panama City Jail are only a few of the construction projects. At one time he had an office in the Panama Canal Zone and was a government contractor. His latest project is the construction of Watson Landings Marina and Boat Storage and Services – it is a full service marina and boat storage facility in the immediate vicinity of The Cove neighborhood and downtown Panama City. A pavilion to be used for special occasions is being completed as this article is written. Mike Hobbs and family are looking forward to the very first event that will be held at the pavilion – a family reunion.
Mike and Cuyler look forward to enjoying their unique bit of heaven by the Bay for many productive years to come.
(Photos of the Grand Opening of Watson Landings and family members who came to the event can be found in the Bay Lately Section.)
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