Panama Canal Administration Building, Balboa, Panama, Central America
Sergio Pitamitz/© Sergio Pitamitz
From 1903 to 1979, the Panama Canal and an area extending eight kilometers (five miles) beyond it on each side were an unincorporated territory of the United States. The Canal Zone was not only politically but culturally part of America, with towns that could have been plucked out of the Midwest except for the humidity and tropical foliage. Balboa was the administrative capital of the Canal Zone, with American schools, several Protestant churches with services in English and both an Elks Club and a Masonic Lodge. Many of the buildings, like the YMCA and the Panama Canal Administration Building, still stand. After 1979, the Canal was jointly administered by Panama and the United States for 20 years before being returned completely to Panama in 1999.