Historic Panama Railroad Freight House
Photos and narration by George Chevalier

The advent of gold being discovered in California unleashed a flood of U.S. Citizens to transit the Isthmus of Panama seeking the fastest route to the gold fields. This spurred on the building of the Panama Railroad as well as other American business interests on the Isthmus and bringing with it a large colony of U.S. citizens to reside there. From 1856 on through the 19th Century there were many armed interventions by U.S. Military Forces attempting to protect U.S. interests and citizens. One of their major concerns was to insure safe uninterrupted passage of the Panama Railroad (PRR). The troops landed and would fortify the freight houses on either side as havens for Americans seeking protection. As the century drew to a close the PRR freight house in Colon became the most important sanctuary as revolutionary activity with fighting increased leading eventually to November 1903.

In August of 1885 the first of the large revolts flared and U.S. Sailors and Marines landed to fortify the freight house in Colon and to patrol the rail line with armored trains. After quelling the revolting forces on the Pacific Side the Colombian Troops raced back to Colon to take on Prestan who held the city. Prestan was beaten but not before he burned down a large part of Colon. His fate was to be hung over the PRR track line entering Colon.

The next major political upheaval was in Sept 1902 as a warm up to that of the following year in November1903. Again large contingent of U.S. Sailors and Marines deployed in Colon around the PRR freight house and operated armored trains along the line. In 1903 the U.S. dropped it's impartiality and this time aided the revolutionaries by not allowing the Colombian Troops to cross the Isthmus on the railroad.

U.S. sailors were landed first in 1903 and then on November 4, 1903 the marines came ashore to stay and did not leave until   January 21, 1914. Shortly after November 5 the first group of marines moved to Empire where they made camp and were followed by the 2nd group which went into camp at Bas Obispo. They soon built their permanent camp, named Camp Elliot, on what became the west bank of the Canal opposite the site of the Gamboa Penitentiary.

The old PRR freight house was to go on for many years and was still standing with little change in 1985.

Click the thumbnail for a larger image

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