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FRANCE FIELD (1920-1957/1964/1970/1979) (Atlantic side/Army-Air Force-Navy)

France Field was constructed in 1918-1920 on Manzanillo Bay near Forts Randolph and DeLesseps as the first real air base in the Canal Zone.  Originally encompassing 634.68 acres, it was formally established and named by Executive Order on April 9, 1920. The 7th Aero Squadron, commanded by Captain H.H. "Hap" Arnold, was the first unit assigned to France Field in February 1918, after the unit arrived in the Canal Zone in 1917.  That unit's mission was confined to patrolling the Atlantic coastal waters in the final days of World War I.  Air mail service between the United States and the Panama Canal Zone was implemented on February 6, 1929, with bi-monthly flights by Pan-American Airways flying between Miami and France Field.  In the 1920s, air activity shifted from France Field to the Pacific side of the Canal Zone, beginning with Albrook Field.  By 1956, the 1,653-acre France Field was determined to be no longer needed by the Air Force and in 1957 it was licensed to the Army for training purposes.  Jurisdiction for France Field was transferred to the Coco Solo Navy Reservation in 1964.  By 1970, the property had been transferred to the Army, and the property was later transferred to Panama on October 1, 1979.

France Field-History

France Field-New Uses



(1920-1979/1995/Atlantic side/Navy)

The Coco Solo Naval Reservation, on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal Zone near Fort Randolph and the city of Colon, was officially established by Executive Order on April 9, 1920 under control of the U.S. Secretary of the Navy.  Construction of the original Coco Solo Submarine Base began in 1919.  It later expanded to a Naval Station, adding the Coco Solo Naval Air Station in 1920. The submarine base was disestablished in 1944. During World War II, Coco Solo also served as Naval Aviation Facility housing for a squadron of P-38 aircraft.  



( # At External Websites)

Map /  photos   #

http://panamaliving.com/NavalStationCocoSoloPhoto Album.html and http://panamaliving.com/NatesPlace.html

Map /  photos   #

Submarine Base (fourth row - right) at Dale Clarke's website at http://gozonian.org/v19/page_3.html
Dirigible Hangar on Submarine Base (fourth row - left) at Dale Clarke's website at http://gozonian.org/v19/page_3.html


( # At External Websites)

Map /  photos   #

http://panamaliving.com/NavalStationCocoSoloPhoto Album.html and http://panamaliving.com/NatesPlace.html

Photos #

1935-1936 photos of the Naval Air Station at Bill MacLaughlin's CZ Images website at  http://www.czimages.com/CZMemories/Photos/photoof281.htm  and  http://www.czimages.com/CZMemories/buchanan/buchanan_index.htm

In 1957 (as part of a series of name changes), the U.S. Naval Station, Coco Solo became the Coco Solo Annex of the U.S. Naval Station, Rodman. At the same time, the Canal Zone Government acquired 229 acres of Coco Solo land together with 285 public quarters and a considerable number of other buildings and facilities which were excess to the requirements of the Navy. The complex was transferred in 1968 to the U.S. Naval Security Group Activity, Galeta Island. 

Part of Coco Solo transferred to Panama October 1, 1979 (the four piers, wharf, and some buildings in Coco Solo North and some buildings in Coco Solo South) while the remaining housing units remained with the Panama Canal Commission and the Coco Solo elementary school remained with the U.S. Forces until transferred to Panama in 1990.  The Coco Solo health clinic complex (which was constructed on the submarine base during World War II) transferred to Panama May 31, 1992.  

[Source:  An American Legacy in Panama:  Brief History of the Department of Defense Installations and Properties in the Former Panama Canal Zone, Republic of Panama, Suzanne P. Johnson and Richard M. Houle, prepared by Graves+Klein for U.S. Army South]

Coco Solo-History

Coco Solo-New Uses


ROUSSEAU (1940s-1999/Pacific side/Navy-Army)

Rousseau was constructed in the early 1940s as a Naval hospital, on 77 acres adjacent to the Panama Canal and between Rodman Naval Station and the townsite of Cocoli and across Bruja Road from the entrance to the later HOROKO golf course.  It was named for Commodore (later Admiral) Henry H. Rousseau, an engineer and a personal appointee of President Theodore Roosevelt as a board member on the third Isthmian Canal Commission.  

ROUSSEAU located between Rodman Naval Station and Cocoli townsite.  The T-shaped building was originally the main hospital building. Each of the long buildings were originally hospital wards, later cut into two apartments at each end with a huge laundry area in between.  [Map courtesy of Dino Barkema, photos of Rousseau on his website www.chagres.com]


ROUSSEAU, originally a Naval hospital later converted to housing area used by the U.S. Civil Aviation Administration (later redesignated Federal Aviation Administration-FAA).  [Photo by T.A. Strepp (Civil Aviation Administration Area Administrator during the Rousseau era) at  http://www.chagres.com/taruswd4.jpg ; photo by T.A. Strepp; T.A. Stepp.  Courtesy of Dino Barkema for  T.A. Stepp.  See Copyright and Privacy Policy for details for any further use. ]

The hospital complex was constructed about the same time two other hospitals were constructed at Fort Clayton (Building 519) and Fort Gulick (Building 400).  Each of the long buildings in the above map were originally hospital wards. After the hospital was declared excess following World War II, the hospital complex was converted into 72 housing units in 1947-1948, with each of the long wards cut into two apartments at each end with a huge laundry in between.  Through an agreement with the Navy, the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA, later Federal Aviation Administration - FAA) took tenancy over Rousseau in the 1950s.  In 1961 the entire population of Rousseau moved to the new town of Cardenas carved out of the jungles between Corozal and Fort Clayton.  The entire facility was demolished in 1962.  

From 1979-1999, the area was used by the U.S. Army under permit from the Navy as a storage and staging area for contingencies and exercises (including the inbound and outbound stateside combat units deployed to Panama for the three-week jungle warfare and survival course at Fort Sherman on the Atlantic side and later also for the Army National Guard and Reserve units deployed from the United States deploying to Panama to conduct engineering exercises  (building or upgrading roads, bridges, schools, and medical clinics) in Panama from 1984 through 1997).  In addition, the Army Range Control office was located at this site.  In September 1994 - February 1995, the site was used to house administrative activities associated with Operation Safe Haven, operated by Southern Command's Army component U.S. Army South, that housed 8,600 Cuban migrants beginning in late 1994 in four temporary Cuban Migrant camps on part of nearby Empire Range for six months under an agreement with the Panamanian Government.  (The migrants were returned to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba in February 1995.)  The site was transferred to Panama June 18, 1999.

For more details and photos go to ROUSSEAU-HISTORY 


COLONIAL FORT SAN LORENZO (Historic Spanish fort located on the Caribbean Coast at the mouth of the Chagres River within the Canal Zone near Fort Sherman)

Fort San Lorenzo, one of the early Spanish outposts in the New World, was initially constructed in 1597 after the Chagres River had become trade routes between Europe and America and one of the principal routes from the Caribbean to the Pacific after the founding of the original Panama City in 1518.  Over the years, the Spanish fort influenced and affected the Spanish colonization of much of Central and South America.  

Historic Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres River on the Caribbean coast near Fort Sherman.  [From World Monuments Fund website at: http://www.wmfpanama.org/index.html]

During the colonial period, the fort underwent additional transformations in 1680 and 1768.  The original wooden fort was destroyed by pirate Henry Morgan  when he rampaged through Panama in 1670-1671 and massacred its defenders.  The present fort was rebuilt of more substantial materials afterward. [Eric Jackson, The Panama News, February 5-19, 2005] It continued to be used as a military fortress by the Spaniards until 1824 following their withdrawal from the continent due to several movements of independence in the Americas (including Panama's declared independence from Spain November 28, 1824).  Besides being a key military outpost, Fort San Lorenzo was a Spanish prison right up until Panamanian independence from Spain in 1821. A number of leaders of Latin America's independence movement were held as political prisoners there.

RELICS OF SAN LORENZO OF CENTURIES PAST --Including 22 cannons. [Photos by Eric Jackson, The Panama News, February 5-19, 2005] 

Fort San Lorenzo was not considered one of the active U.S. military installations in the Canal Zone/Panama Canal Area, even though the area around the fort was officially incorporated into the Fort Sherman military reservation in 1911 (even though the fort was designated a Panamanian National Monument by the Panamanian government since 1908). Since then, public access by the only road to the fort was limited due to the same road pass through the Fort Sherman military reservation. Fort San Lorenzo was transferred to the Government of Panama October 1, 1979, among the first of several facilities/areas in the Canal Zone/Panama Canal Area to be transferred under the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977.  The remoteness of Fort San Lorenzo for the general public continued until after the transfer of Fort Sherman to Panama in 1999.   

Parts of the grounds adjacent to the Spanish fort were used at various periods by the U.S. military as part of coastal defense of the Atlantic entrance to the Canal until after World War II.  Later the fort suffered periods of abandonment followed by cleaning the area to keep the jungle foliage from overtaking the ruins, including those by U.S. military troops as off-dutyl projects occasionally during their training at the Jungle Operations Training Center in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Following its transfer to Panama in 1979, Fort San Lorenzo was included in UNESCO's World Patrimony list in 1980, following the petition of Panamanian authorities. Between 1982 and 1984, extensive efforts were carried out in cleaning, restoring, and maintaining the ruins.  Following the transfer of Fort Sherman in 1999, The Panamanian Tourism Institute (IPAT) and the Interoceanic Region Authority (ARI) have been working jointly on promoting eco-tourism projects at Fort San Lorenzo and Fort Sherman.


Cultural Resources of San Lorenzo -- World Monuments Fund at: http://www.wmfpanama.org/Capitulo_4_B.htm

Portobelo-San Lorenzo -- World Monuments Fund at:

http://www.wmfpanama.org/index.html and 


Fort San Lorenzo Today -- Eric Jackson in the Panama News at:




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William H. Ormsbee, Jr.  2005