The Publishing Museum is the restored and preserved business location of Panama City’s founding father, George Mortimer West, who started Panama City’s first daily newspaper. In addition to photographs, newspapers, and documents produced by Mr. West, the building contains more than 70 major historical items, including vintage printing presses and office furnishings. West’s widow, Lillian West, continued to run the business after his death in 1926, and later, his great-great grandson Charles “Buddy” West operated the family printing business until the city purchased the building in October 2005. The Panama City Publishing Co. Museum is dedicated to historic preservation and revitalization in the St. Andrews area of Panama City.
The history of the Publishing Museum is rich in stories of the early days of St. Andrews and Panama City’s establishment, which could be easily forgotten through the generations were it not for the efforts of the community members who hold them dear and preserve them. Many of the museum’s volunteers and visitors help preserve the stories and the history, as well as the art of letterpress for future generations to enjoy.
George Mortimer West
George M. West came to St. Andrews from Chicago in 1887.
He was a writer, promoter, publisher, botanist, horticulturist, taxidermist, attorney, railroad executive, and basically did whatever needed to be done in the community.
He is credited as the “Founding Father” of Panama City.
He saw great economic potential for the area in connecting the railroads of the mid-west to Panama City, and developing a port for international shipping.
The railroad at the time ended about 60 miles north of Panama City at Cottondale.
In 1887 he built a home, still standing, just east of St. Andrews on Beach Drive.
West married his first wife, Adella, in Chicago, and she gave birth to their son, Charles, (Buddy West’s great grandfather). She died in 1904. His second wife, Luella, came to St. Andrews in 1906 to marry George and died in 1908 (she is buried next to him at Oakland Cemetery). Miss Lillian Carlisle, who grew up in Callaway, just east of Panama City, was the next Mrs. West.
Mr. West moved to St. Andrews permanently in 1905, operating several businesses under Gulf Coast Development Company: land development promotion, the publishing and printing business, newspapers, cotton compress company, dredging and dock building company, etc).
George and Lillian’s courtship
George and Lillian were a unique story. She was 24, and he was 63 when they married in 1909. Lillian Carlisle met George M. West in 1908 when she came to see him about getting her editorial printed in his newspaper, promote getting the East Bay canal dug to connect Callaway (where she managed her family’s properties) to Apalachicola, beginning with her campaign to have the East Bay Canal constructed. She knew if anyone could get the canal dug it was George West. He offered his advice as to how she should proceed with her campaign and very quickly a romance developed which led to their marriage on Feb. 13, 1909. The canal was dug in 1915. Later she said “I got my husband and my canal.”
Letters from friends to Lillian upon George’s passing in 1926, mention how she was such a loving partner to him and cared for him so well to the end. Lillian continued to manage all the West enterprises beyond George’s death, and her business capability was certainly one of her attributes that attracted George.
They built the Panama City Publishing Co. building in 1920 and published the St. Andrews Bay News, the Panama City Pilot, and the Lynn Haven Free Press, as well as other printing and publishing jobs.
Miss Lillian was the business manager (listed as “L.C. West” in the paper, never using her name “Lillian” because of the stigma of a woman running such a business) as well as writing some editorials in the papers. Mr. West always signed his name; she never did.
Miss Lillian was going up against politicians and business men at a time when women stayed at home, or were clerks, teachers, or nurses. But she came by it rightfully, a wife helping her husband in his weakest days.
Miss Lillian was the first woman registered to vote in St. Andrews in 1920.
Mr. West’s health was in decline for several years before he died in 1926 (in the chair at his desk in the front office of the Panama City Publishing Co. building), and Miss Lillian had taken the reins of his business interests well before his death. When he died, there was no question who was in control.
St. Andrews was incorporated in 1908; Panama City in 1909 – named Panama City by Mr. West because it was a direct line from Chicago through here to the Panama Canal.
FYI: The Panama Canal Act passed in 1910 and the Panama Canal opened in 1914, giving ships a shorter route and access to the Pacific and west coast.
In 1926, Panama City went to the legislature in Tallahassee and secretly in the midnight hour annexed St. Andrews, Millville, and a couple of other small communities, in an effort to increase the tax base. Miss Lillian exposed the act on the front page of the next St. Andrews Bay News:
“Hail Caesar, those who are about to die salute you” was the title. She went on:
St. Andrews has fallen. That honored and loved title, the name of one of Christ’s much beloved disciples, has been torn down from the proud eminence it has occupied for a hundred years, to gratify personal spite; to enrich those who would, through the act of supine legislature, and the approval of a pliant governor, attach and tax widely separated sections of this bay country, to pay an indebtedness brought about by graft and profiteering, and to control a people with which the despoilers have no sympathy, no business connection, and nothing in common. In fact, it brings taxation to a large portion of this city without representation. This is one of the most unconstitutional features of the Annihilation Act.
With but one voice out of five in the new city government, but with about one half its territory, our people will not have any power in the council of the new city, no power to secure needed legislation, to even lay a sidewalk, pave a street, build a bridge, obtain city water or fire protection. They control our police, if we have any given us by this antagonistic body of lawmakers. We will be taxed heavily to maintain an expensive staff of officials whose only business will be to carry on political agitation, and to retain in office our oppressors.
“O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure?”
For nearly four hundred years St. Andrews has held a prominent place on the north gulf coast. Discovered by one of the early Spanish navigators of the Mexico Gulf, a Saint’s name was given it, which, when this section came into the possession of the United States, was given the settlement here, and ever since it has been known by the name of St. Andrews. But as the poet has said, “Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow,” and within the past few years there has arisen in this region “A new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph,” and the mandate went forth to despoil and destroy those who inhabited the land. And thoroughly has this command been carried out so far as the city of St. Andrews is concerned. But “Assassination makes only martyrs, not converts,” and the martyrdom of St. Andrews may possibly result as did the martyrdom of the disciple at Achia. But many who have known St. Andrews from their childhood up; who have sported upon its beaches; who have fished in its waters; who have rejoiced in outings spent here, will regret the despoliation which has taken away its hundred year old name, and they will curse those accountable therefore. Sadly say Farewell! The sea is calling tonight, and with its call St. Andrews slips its leash, and passes out across the bar. Farewell! A long Farewell.
Miss Lillian believed a newspaper should lead the people and report what the editor deemed just and right.
She always wore a hat, button-down dresses with large pockets, and a cameo pin was her only adornment.
In the 1920s, she had eight employees, and as many as 16 in the 1930s. She sold the St. Andrews Bay News to the Panama City Herald in 1937. It became today’s Panama City News Herald.
Buddy West (George West’s great-great, grandson) came into the business in 1966 and was running the business still when the City of Panama City purchased the building and its contents in 2005, with the stipulation it be opened to the public as a museum.
The City obtained a Historic Preservation grant from the State of Florida and restored the building, opening as a museum in 2008.
Today, volunteers continue to operate the original vintage letterpresses, printing small jobs and greeting cards to support the museum.
More stories about Miss Lillian:
She drove 10 miles an hour, and would stop and park in the road if there was no parking place in front of the grocery store on Beck Avenue (where Jani’s Ceramics is currently located), and if you were blocked in, you just had to wait for her to finish shopping. Others driving on the road would have to drive around her car.
She once had a wreck on Beach Drive. The man in the other car recognized who she was, jumped out and ran over and apologized profusely for causing the wreck. She insisted it wasn’t his fault, and he said “Yes, it was my fault, I saw you coming down the road when I was several blocks back, and I had plenty of time to turn off.”
She would walk out of the publishing building promptly at 9:00 each morning and go to the post office across the street. She never looked before crossing the street. She just held both hands out in a “stop” position for the traffic and walked across.
Once walking across the street her “bloomers” fell down around her ankles, and she just walked out of them and kept going.
She was thrifty and salvaged everything and repurposed it. She used old license plates and pieces of ceiling tin to patch holes in the floor. She got the mail cabinet from the post office trash pile.
Lillian’s feud with Walter Sherman:
Another example of her fearless character was her ongoing feud with Walter Sherman, a business leader who owned St. Andrews Bay Lumber Company, Atlanta-St. Andrews Bay Railroad, and a Director of the First National Bank. The government had seized the German American Lumber Company during WWI, and Sherman purchased it for pennies on the dollar in 1919. Miss Lillian opposed the action. She backed the lumber company employees when they were on strike. In 1920 the main point of contention most likely was the Wests’ opposition to consolidation of Panama City and St. Andrews, and Sherman’s support of consolidation. Sherman got a petition together that denounced the Wests and their “yellow journalism” and requested they leave the area. In 1921, Sherman shut down the railroad spur to St. Andrews. The feud was dormant for years, until 1931 when First National Bank was closed. Sherman was the major stockholder and the closure resulted in a number of businesses going bankrupt causing much bitterness throughout the community. A month later the lumber mill and 20 homes were destroyed by fire. People believed the events were linked, and Miss Lillian published so. Sherman criticized the “dirty sheet published at St. Andrews” and encouraged women to stay home and let men run the town.
An unfinished ceiling explained:
In the 1940s with WWII raging, there was not enough housing for the influx of people who came to work in the shipyard (port location). Miss Lillian put chicken wire down the middle of the Publishing building, separating her printing business on the north side, so she could rent out cots in the loft areas. The workers would sleep there, work at the shipyard, and eat at a boarding house restaurant at Beck and 11th Street.
She caught some of the renters climbing through the rafters to her printing side and started putting up the tin ceiling to keep them out. The war ended, the workers went home, and she never finished the ceiling.
Around the same time, she built a “lean-to” addition on the south side of the building, to be an apartment for one of her employees. In the 1960s it was (Peewee) Wynn’s Oyster Bar. Today it is the courtyard area, with the recycled “Old Chicago” brick paving.
FYI: Peewee served beer in coffee cups on Sundays, because one couldn’t sell alcohol on Sunday then.
She built the log cabin in 1940, and moved out of the original West home, which is still there today. Today, Buddy West resides in the log cabin.
Miss Lillian frequently slept in a hammock at home.
After Miss Lillian no longer published the newspaper, Buddy’s sister Margaret was Miss Panama City and Miss Panama City Beach in the late 1960s. She was photographed frequently on the beach modeling a bikini. She would go to the log cabin about the time when the paper would be delivered and get Miss Lillian’s, and hide it so she wouldn’t see Margaret’s pictures in a bikini.
VISIT US at the Panama City Publishing Museum:
1134 Beck Avenue
Panama City, Florida 32401