Forty Years Ago...
In 1967, Junior Women’s Club and the Women's Club of Panama City conceived the idea for a children's museum in Bay County. Other civic organizations and many volunteers joined with them over the years to develop the museum into what it is today. The first exhibit opened in 1969 in a farmer’s market building that an elementary school’s kindergarten class shared. The current museum property was first leased from the City of Panama City in 1972. The present building was erected and the first exhibits staged in 1981.
Back in the 60’s, the Junior Museum in Tallahassee sparked an inspirational idea in Eleanor Lewis’ heart. Why not have an adventure place for children to play and learn in Bay County? She shared her vision with the Woman’s Club of Panama City and the Junior Woman’s Club, and they set out to make this dream a reality.
“Eleanor was always great at recruiting volunteers,” commented Julie Cheshire, who has been a major lifeblood of the museum for years. Mrs. Cheshire has a background in history and interior design, and was recruited by Eleanor in the early years.
When asked how Mrs. Lewis was able to motivate so many volunteers, Julie chuckled. “Well, it was just so much fun! We wanted to make exhibits that would be fun for the children and involve them—not just something to look at. Warren Biegler, an engineer, would actually make the exhibits move. We had a Cape Buffalo head for an African exhibit, with the body painted to make it look real. When the children would step on a hidden panel, the buffalo would charge out at them!"
In those early days, all the exhibits were built by the hands of volunteers. Curtis Jackson recalls an early Native American village exhibit. “We went out into the woods and got Saw Palmetto and wood, and built the teepees and all the tools, just the way the Native Americans did, from the things they found,” he related.
As we celebrate 50 years, we give heartfelt thanks to all the dedicated and determined pioneers who, equipped with a passion to make learning fun, poured their hearts and lives into turning a dream into reality for our children.
In June 2010 a new 6,000 square foot Visitor Center and Classroom Building was opened...and thanks to the generosity of this community...was moved into DEBT-FREE! Thank you to all our wonderful donors.
In April 2011 the new name was announced:
Science & Discovery Center of Northwest Florida
The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida will educate and inspire children and adults through hands-on, interactive exhibits and programs that promote discovery of science, technology, and history.