Built by a woman, this home once was the residence of the first mayor of Panama City. When Belle Booth built this cute little cottage style home in Panama City in 1909, the area would have looked much different. Its Dutch Colonial style stands out amongst the historic downtown buildings nearby. The history behind the home is unique and brings to light the settlement of the area.
Moving from Escanaba, Michigan to just north of what was to become Panama City in 1903, Belle and her husband Dr. Charles Booth built a home near Anderson Bayou in what is now Lynn Haven. They brought along with them their nine year old daughter, Jewel. Her husband worked to open a medical practice but soon came down with severe blood poisoning in 1907. Dr. Booth traveled to New York hoping his brother, who was also a doctor would be able to cure his illness. Unfortunately he passed away in his brothers care that year.
Devastated by the loss of her husband, Belle moved into Panama City with her daughter and constructed this home in 1909. Moving from the country she chose to build her residence across from the city park. During the years of 1909-1913 she lived here and worked as a postmistress supporting her family. She paid for her young daughter Jewel to attend school at Brenau Conservatory, today a university, in Gainesville, Georgia. Jewel was a brilliant and well liked young woman in the community. She would often return back to Panama City during breaks to visit with family and friends.
On December 6, 1911, Belle received a message that her only child had suddenly fallen ill. She rushed to Georgia to be with her daughter but sadly, she passed away before she was able to arrive. Jewel was only seventeen at the time of her death and her mother dedicated a stained glass window and bell in her honor at the M.E. Church of Panama City.
Belle Booth remarried on January 11, 1913 to a prominent local man known by the name of Robert L. McKenzie. They took their honeymoon to Havana, Cuba. McKenzie believed that he could incorporate Panama City into a port community that would be an excellent location for freight between Atlanta and the soon to be built Panama Canal. He was the mayor of Panama City beginning in 1909 and served in the Florida House of Representatives for two terms between 1909-1913.
As Robert McKenzie worked in politics, his wife Belle strived to achieve benevolent programs for women and children in the community. Being very involved in the church she felt it important to put effort into the local area. Having lost her husband and been a single mother she worked to provide aid to women in need.
Following Belle’s death in 1919, McKenzie focused his efforts into his work. He continued to engage in business activities in the community. His residence remained at this house and he added onto the home to add space for his work and colleagues to meet.
Robert McKenzie remarried to a local schoolteacher, Blandford Dixon with whom he had two daughters, Anne in 1921 and Ellen in 1924. The family continued to live in the home. It was in this home that many decisions impacting Panama City were made and the family raised their two daughters.
When Robert met Bob Jones, an ambitious minister with plans to construct a college in the area, he began helping establish the educational institution. Bob Jones University opened in 1927 and remained in Panama City until the 1930s following the Great Depression when it moved to Tennessee. He worked during World War II on the Selective Service Board and with the American Red Cross.
The McKenzie House was named and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The home is available to take pictures of the exterior and on occasion the inside is open for tours. For more information please visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Landmark—Historical-Place/The-Historic-McKenzie-House-174104114331/.
Thanks for reading and as always, keep on truckin’!