Florida’s Forgotten Coast

Florida's Forgotten Coast

The Florida’s Forgotten Coast Oral History Project pays homage to the men and women who have long worked the water, tonging for oysters, casting nets for shrimp and fish, and cultivating soft-shell crabs. People have drawn their livelihoods from the Apalachicola Bay and surrounding waters for generations, but their way of life is changing. These people tell stories of the days when schools of mullet were thick in the water and when tupelo honey was a local find, not a Hollywood star. More than fish tales and folklore, these are the stories of the men and women who have depended on the Apalachicola Bay for generations. They are stories from Florida’s Forgotten Coast.


This project sponsored by the St. Joe Company

Interviews

A.L. Quick - Oysterman - Florida

A.L. “Unk” Quick

A. L. “Unk” Quick has been an oysterman most of his life. He quit school at the age of sixteen and started working on the water the very next day.

Corky Richards - Tongmaker - Florida

Albert “Corky” Richards

Using his carpentry skills, he began to make his own oyster tongs. One year in the off-season, a local marine supply company asked him to make tongs for the store. Soon Corky was making and selling tongs to oystermen throughout Franklin County. Business was so good Corky opened a woodworking shop.

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Anthony Taranto

Anthony took over his father’s seafood business as an adult. But today Taranto’s Seafood is closed. Anthony retired in the late 1990s. No one else in the family wanted to take it over. The building still stands on Water Street in downtown Apalachicola. Anthony rents the waterfront access to some commercial fishermen. The building is empty, but the story of Taranto’s Seafood is still very much connected to life on the bay.

Bobby Shiver - Boat Builder - Florida

Bobby Shiver

As he puts it, he sees a picture in his mind and he builds it. His boats are used by oystermen and fishermen all along the Gulf Coast. In 1977 he built a fifty-seven foot shrimp boat called the Mayme Ellyn. Bobby is no longer making boats, but the Mayme Ellyn still hauls plenty of shrimp.

Carl McCaplan - Florida

Carl McCaplan

As a teenager, Carl moved away, looking for a different life. But the people and the place drew him back. He returned to Apalachicola and invested in his future. In the late 1980s Carl worked with the Oyster Association to replant the oyster beds. Twenty years later, oystermen are now harvesting those areas.

Charles and Rex Pennycuff - Fisherman's Choice - Florida

Charles and Rex Pennycuff

In 1993 Charles opened Fisherman’s Choice Bait & Tackle in Eastpoint. He has no employees, only his family. From this modest storefront, every fisherman, hunter, and seafood worker can get what he or she needs. From crickets to rubber boots, fishing poles to dog food, they’ve got it. And the nature of this kind of business is that it’s the center of all things bay-related. Locals stop in for bait, friends stop in to chat, and strangers get tips on good fishing holes.

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Charles Thompson

Today Thompson’s Net Shop is one of the last of its kind. Some shrimpers make and repair their own nets, and some might order theirs from a manufacturer. But the shrimp nets that Charles and his friend James Beckton make are different. They are each custom made and hand-finished for their friends and neighbors who still work the bay.

Donald Smiley - Beekeeper and Former Oysterman - Florida

Donald Smiley

But in 1980 he moved to Franklin County and began oystering. Donald says he made more money in one day of oystering than he could make in a week at doing A/C repair. He harvested oysters for the next thirteen years. But in 1993 the industry was changing so much that Donald wanted out. As a hobby, he started tinkering with bees. He read books and learned from other beekeepers. In time, Donald amassed enough hives to turn to beekeeping—and honey production—full-time.

Fred C. Millender - Fred's Best Seafood - Florida

Fred C. Millender

He has found a way to keep Fred’s Best Seafood afloat. Today his daughter Susan operates the seafood house. But Fred still has hand in the business. He can often be found at his colorful roadside stand, chatting with a friend or smoking fillets of mullet for local fishermen. Fred is as colorful as the hand painted signs that flank his little market. Filled with fascinating stories and songs to share, Fred is a stranger to no one and friend to all.

Genaro "Jiggs" Zingarelli - Franklin County Press - Oyster Tag Printer - Florida

Genaro “Jiggs” Zingarelli

Printing has changed, but Jiggs still holds true to the craft he learned so many decades ago. He still prints tags for customers he’s had now for two generations. But time stops inside the print shop. A sort of museum of printing history, it is also a meeting place. Old-timers congregate there, reminiscing about the old days. Tall tales are told as the machines crank out these vintage-style tags.

George Watkins - Beekeeper - Watkins' Tupelo Honey - Florida

George Watkins

Over the years he has harvested just about everything the bay has to offer. But one day George decided to take up beekeeping. He says it was because he just liked honey. Like everything else George does, he threw himself into beekeeping with a passion. He started small, but soon he was the top tupelo honey producer in the area.

Grady Leavins - Leavins Seafood - Florida

Grady Leavins

Although he came into the industry as an outsider, Grady has earned the respect of his employees, his neighbors, and his peers. Today he is among those leading the industry in production and innovation. And he is just getting started.

Henry Tindell - Crabber - Florida

Henry Tindell

As imports began replacing the local hard crab business, soft-shell crabs became popular. It takes a special person to work with soft-shells, though. For three months out of the year, those crabs are doted on night and day. They have to be constantly monitored to catch their molt. Only a freshly molted crab can be sold as a live soft-shell. But the long nights are worth it to Henry. He figured the soft-shell business was the only area left to make a decent living off of the bay. He welcomes the opportunity to pass on his knowledge.

Betty and James McNeill - Indian Pass Raw Bar - Florida

James and Betty McNeill

In 1947 James Jr. married Betty Lane. Together, they established the Indian Pass Seafood Company. The McNeills also operated a commissary, a remnant of the turpentine camp days, catering to the families that worked for them and lived in the remote area. Today, the commissary is better known as the Indian Pass Raw Bar.

James Hicks - Papa Joe's Oyster Bar and Grill - Florida

James Hicks

He oystered for near thirty-five years before he decided to hang his hat and get a more reliable job. Today, 13 Mile is the name of the seafood house that was once Miller’s. James is still very much connected to the place and to oysters. His wife, Oddys, is a shucker out at 13 Mile. And James opens oysters from 13 Mile for his loyal customers at Papa Joe’s Oyster Bar & Grill in downtown Apalachicola.

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Janice Richards

Janice Richards was born in Eastpoint in 1945 and has been shucking oysters since 1960. Her mother taught her the trade when she was a girl. Early on she learned to take her time to shuck a clean oyster. Janice married at the age of fourteen. Her husband, Johnny Richards, is an oysterman. They’ve worked at a handful of seafood houses over the years. Today they work together at Tommy Ward’s oyster house, 13 Mile.

Lynn Martina - Lynn's Quality Oysters - Florida

Lynn Martina

Born and raised in Eastpoint, Lynn Martina grew up in the seafood industry. Her parents, John and Sherrill Carroll, were in the business for almost thirty years. Lynn started shucking at her parents’ oyster house at the age of nine. She would get out of school and head straight to the shucking stall.

Larry Covell and Melanie Cooper Covell - The Wheelhouse Raw Bar - Florida

Melanie Cooper Covell

In 2004 Melanie married Larry Covell. Together, they opened the Wheelhouse Raw Bar in downtown Apalachicola. Melanie’s brother, Joey, is the cook. His mullet dip is unrivaled. But the Wheelhouse is as well-known for community outreach. Melanie and her family host a food drive every Monday.

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Monette Hicks

Oystermen harvested their catch nearby on Cat Point and Porters Bar. Shuckers would work daylight to dark, without electricity. In 1933, at the age of sixteen, Monette married a shrimper, Louis Hullman Hicks. Louis sold his catch to Taranto’s Seafood in Apalachicola. But together, the Hickses eventually owned and operated an oyster house of their own. There, Monette shucked until she was well into her seventies.

Monica Lemieux - Florida

Monica Lemieux

She and her husband, Leslie Lemieux, oystered together for a few years. In the 1980s Monica was an officer with the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association. She participated in a seafood workers strike, which resulted in self-imposed licensing and a per-bag surcharge on oysters. To this day, the resulting funds enable the replanting of the bay’s oyster beds each season.

Terry Dean - Island View Seafood - Florida

Terry Dean

Today only a handful of seafood houses line the water’s edge through Eastpoint. Terry works at a retail market called Island View Seafood. There she cleans fish, bags oysters, and counts crabs. She has spent some time away from Florida. She wanted to show her children that there’s a whole world out there. But she eventually ended up back in Eastpoint. To her, it will always be home.

Tommy Ward - Owner of 13 Mile Oyster Company

Tommy Ward

Eventually, he returned to the family business. But 13 Mile is not just his business. It’s his heritage. Hurricane Dennis practically destroyed the place in 2005. But with the help of his friends and family, he rebuilt. Today, the freshly painted building that stands along the water’s edge is a monument of sorts. It’s a monument to a place, its past, and to a man. Buddy Ward passed away in April of 2006.

Wes Birdsong - Caretaker of Deep Water Marina and Boatyard - Florida

Wes Birdsong

Originally from Atlanta, Wes Birdsong and his wife sailed into Apalachicola in 1996. They docked their boat in town at the Deep Water Marina & Boatyard. Soon it became obvious to Wes that the marina needed some attention. He took it upon himself to become caretaker of the place and help service the boats. Deep Water Marina, once the only working boatyard in the area, serviced all of the commercial fishing boats in Apalachicola.

Seafood & Honey - Vintage Apalachicola

XTRA: Vintage Apalachicola

Vintage Apalachicola All images courtesy of the Florida State Archives’ Florida Memory Project. THE SEAFOOD INDUSTRY