The Panama Canal officially opened on Aug. 14, 1914, when the SS Ancon sailed the newly constructed 48-mile waterway from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. That path linking the two bodies of water on the Isthmus of Panama is mentioned a number of times in Carroll County history.
Distinguished international journalist Sadie Kneller Miller, who was born in Westminster, worked for many years for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. She covered the early years of the building of the canal around 1908, according to research by Mary Ann Ashcraft for the Historical Society of Carroll County.
The opening of the canal gave a much-needed boost to Carroll County agriculture, as it shaved more than 7,000 miles off the trip by ship around South America to markets on the west coast of the United States and Asia for Carroll County corn, wheat, soybeans, canned goods and meat products.
The year the canal opened was a critical one in the history of Carroll County farming. It marked the end of an era that began in 1896 that agricultural historian Carol Lee referred to as the "Golden Age." The economy, society, government and the marketplace were changing rapidly and the outbreak of World War 1 in July precipitated profound challenges for the county and the country.
Many Carroll Countians came to know Panama, as well as other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean region, by way of military service. Many served or trained at the Army base at Fort Sherman, at the Jungle Operations Training Center on the Caribbean side of the canal.
Nathan Haines Baile, a prominent New Windsor citizen, visited the canal around 1925. According to a tribute to Baile written in the April 30, 1926, edition of the American Sentinel newspaper, Baile "enjoyed a pleasure trip through the Panama Canal and up the Pacific Coast."
Vice-President Joe Biden observed in a commentary published by the Sun on Nov. 24, 2013, that since the advent of container shipping in 1956, global commerce has been transformed. Many of today's container ships are too large to travel through the canal. To address this issue, after years of planning, the Canal Authority began an ambitious expansion effort on Sept. 3, 2007. That expansion gained the attention of business and political leaders in the mid-Atlantic region. As a result, last November, Biden, according to his commentary, "traveled to Panama to check out the progress. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined me…. These public officials know the new canal equals opportunities for their constituents."
It seems that my invitation to join Biden and the mayor got lost in the mail. So I took matters in my own hands and visited the canal, the port of Colon, and Panama City for a history tour this past January. I also had a stopover for an eco-tour of portions of Costa Rica and San Jose.
Although the history and ecotourism aspects of the trip left lasting impressions, the true surprise was Panama City, a vast collection of skyscrapers and a thriving economic center that may be best described as the Hong Kong of Latin and South America.