Gamboa is a small town in the Republic of Panama. It was one of a handful of permanent Canal Zone townships, built to house employees of the Panama Canal and their dependents. The name Gamboa is the name of a tree of the quince family.
Gamboa is located on a sharp bend of the Chagres River at the point which feeds Lake Gatun. Just south of Gamboa, Lake Gatun and the Chagres meet the Culebra Cut (Gaillard Cut) where the Canal cuts through the Continental Divide. Thus, though Gamboa is closer to the Pacific side of Panama, its watershed is on the Atlantic side. A single lane iron and wood bridge crosses the Chagres and is the only road access to Gamboa. This bridge is still in use today. Vehicles waiting to pass over the bridge must wait for a stoplight to enter the bridge, since it is only capable of providing space for one lane of traffic at a time. In December 2010 this bridge was the site of massive flooding and huge floating islands passing under the bridge, with trees violently hitting it, which led to the temporary closure of the Panama Canal.
Gamboa was built near the site of the former village of Santa Cruz. Three miles further up the Chagres river was the town of Las Cruces, where 19th-century travelers and cargo disembarked from river barges to take the overland Las Cruces trail by mule. After the completion of the Panama Railroad in 1855, the railroad ran near the area, but made no stops and no PR maps list any towns in Gamboa's present location.
Present-day Gamboa was built in 1911, during Canal construction. It was initially populated by "silver roll" (i.e., Afro-Antilleans and other non-US, non-white) workers and their dependents. These initial settlers, counted at around 700, had previously lived in the construction areas between the former towns of Tabernilla and Gorgona, which were covered by Lake Gatun as Canal construction advanced. No Americans were counted amongst the town's first inhabitants.
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