Churches in the Panama Canal Zone


“The Panama Canal Zone
Once there was a dream,
It became a reality.

Once there was a life,
It became a dream.”

Virginia Hollowell Hirons

The Panama Canal Zone was Shangri-La; a  mythical Isthmian utopia—permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world.  The Panama Canal Commission was like a big father to its employees.  It gave them the best jobs in the area, with the highest salaries, fed them, entertained them, educated them and sometimes disciplined them.  It was the perfect socialist state that not even Karl Marx’s socialist model could match.  It was so isolated from the outside world, that eventually the happy bubble burst.

The spiritual aspect of the Panama Canal Zone was also a major concern of the canal’s authorities.  Churches of all denominations proliferated in the Yankee Strip.

There were several Christian denomination churches in the former Panama Canal Zone on both sides of the Isthmus, and in between.   Also, most of the military bases had chapels.

These are some of them:

  • Balboa Union Church
  • Ancon Church of Christ Scientist
  • Margarita Holy Family Church
  • Balboa Baptist Church
  • Gamboa Union Church
  • Christ Church of the Sea, Colon
  • Gatun Union Church
  • Margarita Union Church
  • La Boca Baptist Church

The following article published on August 6, 1910 in The New York Times, explains the proliferation of churches in the former Panama Canal Zone:

“Church and State march hand in hand in the Panama Canal Zone.  The Church is fostered by the State and much of the expense is defrayed, the State, as exemplified in the administration of the zone, profiting, for its part in the improved moral tone of its citizenry.

The Canal Zone boasts of thirty-nine churches, according to the latest issue of the canal record.  Of these, twenty-six are owned by the Panama Canal Commission.  Of the remaining thirteen, eleven are upon land that is owned by the United States.

The Panama Canal Commission likes to lend every encouragement to church work in the zone, believing that it makes for the stability of the forces employed on the canal and good order in the villages within its jurisdiction.”

Below are two pictures of a church located at La Boca in Balboa which dates back to the early days of the Panama Canal Commission.  It’s La Boca Baptist Church.  Notice the grand Norfolk pines that graced the former Canal Zone towns.  Here we go.

Photograph of the La Boca Baptist Church located at the entrance of the Panama Canal 3 miles downstream.  Notice the tall elegant pine trees in the background.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the La Boca Baptist Church located at the entrance of the Panama Canal 3 miles downstream. Observe the tall elegant pine trees in the background. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Another view of the christian church which was one of many that abunded in the Panama Canal Zone sponsored by the Panama Canal Commission.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Another view of the christian church which was one of many commonly found in the former Panama Canal Zone sponsored by the Panama Canal Commission. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)

I would like to point out how well preserved these building are, even though they are several decades old.  I hope they remain this way for many years to come.  Good Day.

7 thoughts on “Churches in the Panama Canal Zone”

  1. Many of us remember fondly our Union Church in Pedro Miguel – and our pastor Christy Schevland.
    Many a fine day spent there – but most of all the memories of our youth and involvement with our church.

    John Schmidt

  2. Hello John:

    Thank you for your comments. You are welcomed to return at any time. I will keep on posting articles on the actual status of the former Canal Zone for those who had the opportunity to live there.

    Best Regards,

    Omar.-

  3. I’m trying to find the husband of a relative of mine who passed away recently. They were married in 1952 in La Boca by a Baptist minister named Rev. Crook. The husband’s name is Percival Simon Leo. If you have any information about his current whereabouts–alive or dead—please respond to this message as soon as possible.

  4. I lived in the Canal Zone in the 70’s and belonged to Margarita Baptist Church, I am wishing to move my membership to where I have retired. I need to get an address for that church if it is still in existence. So if someone could please assist me in my endeavor it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you
    Rita Hodge Lowry
    lowrykennel@yahoo.com

  5. Still have not heard from anyone regarding this church, would appreciate any information that anyone can share with me.

  6. Christy Scheveland, was not only pastor of Pedro Miguel Union Church, as he was also our Boy Scout leader, and provided the kind of leadership and inspiration above our greatest expectations. Many thanks Chrisy for All, John (Jack) Wilkinson

  7. Looking for enfomation on the church called Loco Baptish Church. I went their as a child and my name is Gerry Renz (Andrus), Please let me know. Thank you.

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