It is thought that the name "Panama" came as a result of the discussion about building a canal across the Isthmus of Panama about the time the precinct was being founded. Originally part of the "old Clay County" area, it may have been identified differently prior to 1862-63. Located in Section 3 of Panama Precinct, a town site was laid out on land belonging to Gilbert Steeves in the late 1869, and a post office established. In Andreas' History of Nebraska of 1882, it is mentioned as "a post office," but no additional information is offered.
When the Missouri Pacific Railroad was building its line from Crete to Auburn in 1888, it passed through the town. Elinor Brown notes in her history, Lancaster County, Then & Now , that Otis Hamilton was appointed postmaster in 1900. Said to be "the first," he was perhaps the "first full time" in that position.
When Panama incorporated in 1904, the essence of its bylaws and ordinances included laws to preserve the peace and morals, and prevent nuisances, plus provisions for regulating pool halls, the sale of spirituous beverages, and prohibiting "servile work and trading on Sunday." They also provided for the grading of streets, building of sidewalks, appointment of judges and clerks, the planting of trees, and penalties for destroying them. Druggists had to be bonded and dogs had to be licensed.
The "Panama Patriot" newspaper, published by John Wood and John Ott, was published in 1892. When Glenn Pennington took over in 1909, he called it the "Panama News." Later it became the "Panama Record," the "Post," the "Press," and was finally "Lancaster Record," when published by Ira Hedges in the 1930s. On the pages of these epistles one finds many details about the people and events that occurred during the early days of the town.
Panama's District 132 was located in the south part of town. It started as a one-room school, and as the community grew, a larger frame building was built. When that schoolhouse burned in 1927, a brick building replaced it. In 1964 Panama consolidated with other school districts to form the Norris School. The high school closed that year, and the elementary students started to attend Norris in 1967.
At one time Panama had three churches: United Brethren, Christian, and Presbyterian. The latter remains an active fellowship of believers.
Panama had a good band and orchestra led by Joe Genuchi in the early 1900s.
Panama has had city water for many years, and installed a modern sewage disposal system in 1964. Its electricity is furnished by Nebraska City Utilities. The town has a modern fire house and good equipment.
Located less than a mile west of Highway 43 on state spur 143, Panama has a wide, paved Main Street. Many businesses have come and gone, leaving the community with a nucleus of services, and its post office.
The railroad depot closed its doors in 1944. Since then the line has been abandoned and the rails removed. Trucks and automobiles perform the task of supplying the community with goods and services. It is hard to imagine what it was like to wait for trains to do it all.
E. Maude Dickson Steeves, life-long resident of Panama, penned a poem in 1958 which reads, in part:
From board walks to cement,
and those hitching posts too.
To look down Main Street now
presents a different view.
And although we're not so large a town,
its nice when one goes by,
to just look up and know them, and
say a friendly "Hi!"
So friends, Panama may be slipping
and the young bloom is almost past,
but we still hope our Panama,
through many years, will last.
By Jane Graff from Elinor Brown's Lancaster County Then & Now , Andreas' History of Nebraska 1882, Perkey's Nebraska Place Names, and Nebraska Department of Roads maps.