CORTEZ – Ask a Cortezian about their village, and stories fly like mullet being tossed into a boat cooler.
Here are some snapshots of the Cortez of yesterday – some fond, some funny, some frightening – told mostly in the words of the reminiscers, and, like all fish tales, mostly true.
Commercial fisherman, former state president of Organized Fishermen of Florida
I grew up on crews. When I was just a little fella, before I could earn half a share, I was with Uncle Joe Capo on dad’s boat. We would fish for days at a time and ice them down, and get a truck to come to the Skyway and we’d unload into the truck and they’d bring us ice. A guy we called Shorty was cooking on the boat – pompano, rice and tomato gravy. Uncle Joe was steering and I was down in the cabin. Shorty said you could eat the backbone of a pompano like potato chips. He fried it up. It was the finest kind, and I was eatin’ it. He couldn’t hardly hold himself from bustin’ as I spit it over the side of boat.
I remember milk being delivered in Hoods metal boxes. Selling mangos and guavas to the Yankees in Cortez Trailer Park; they either loved them or were allergic to them. We used to drink water out of jelly jars from the water tanks with wiggle worms floating in it. Before we had indoor plumbing I remember going to the Albion Inn and running through it and flushing all the toilets. Guys knocking down the walls of the (Cortez) bridge during construction to keep the bridge from being built. The mosquito control district spraying that yellow fog (DDT). Hearing on the (marine) radio, “Blue’s lost his leg.”
Thomas “Blue” Fulford
Commercial fisherman, Manatee County Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee
People used to pull together. When one hurt, they all hurt. It used to be a good place to grow up, but something has happened to the dear hearts and gentle people in my hometown. It ain’t like the good old days. People don’t work together like they used to. It’s not cohesive like it used to be. I couldn’t say exactly what happened, but the main thing was the net ban.
Blue crabber, granddaughter of Cortez settler Vernon Mora
Everyone used to come out to the Friday night fish fries during mullet season at the volunteer fire station. Ol’ Man Coarsey from the post office always had his harmonica in his pocket. The menu was fried mullet, hush puppies, cole slaw, grits and sweet tea. The men would do the cooking, the women would make the desserts and the kids would clear the tables. After the net ban, we stopped doing them. There’s a lot of stuff we did that we can’t do anymore since the net ban.
Mary Fulford Green
Co-founder, Cortez Village Historical Society
When I was about eight, my Grandpa, Capt. Billy Fulford, asked me to go to the store for him. He had just one leg; that meant walking down the path to the store. When I returned I gave him the change and one dime was missing. He asked if I had bought candy. That would have been okay with him. I told him “No.” My mother wanted to prove that I was telling the truth. She left everything she was doing and walked back down the path and found the dime that had dropped in the grass. That was a wonderful lesson to learn – the value of truth. Today I do not lie. To me a white lie is a lie.
Mary Fulford Green’s son
I used to spend summers and school holidays in Cortez and loved going fishing with my grandfather, Tink Fulford. We didn’t fish on Sundays because almost everyone went to church, but Sunday night it was ok to go fishing. My grandmother insisted we go to the Church of Christ both Sunday morning and Sunday night. Grandpa Tink didn’t go to church on Sunday night and he wanted to leave as soon as possible but he wasn’t going to tell my grandmother we couldn’t go to church. We would have to run from the church building to the dock as soon as the service was over. Grandpa knew exactly what time we should be there and he would untie, start up the boat and take off from the dock as soon as he saw us getting close. We had to run and jump on as the boat was pulling off. I don’t think he would have left us if we missed the boat but he sure acted like it.
Bandleader, Richard Culbreath Group, veteran
I remember getting electricity and running water to our house, our first icebox and later a refrigerator, our first washing machine with hand-cranked wringer and indoor plumbing and a bathroom with a toilet.
I think the one thing I have to put ahead of the rest is family. I grew up in two large families, the Julius Mora and James Culbreath families. I learned family values and traditions, including music, and have been able to carry that through life.
Volunteer, Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez
My Dad would take me with him in his boat up to School Key (now Key Royale) to cut a red cedar tree to be used as our Christmas tree. The result would be the fragrant red cedar aroma in our little house throughout the Christmas season. I think most families in Cortez did this. I can’t remember anyone buying a spruce or pine. Indeed, my Dad would cut several to share with elderly neighbors who couldn’t get one on their own.
Richard “Chips” Shore
FISH board member, Clerk of Manatee County Circuit Court and Comptroller
My parents ate at the Albion Inn two or three times a month. As a child it was an adventurous trip especially in the back near the water and over towards Bell’s (A.P. Bell Fish Co.). There was always some activity going on and the food was second to none. Our favorite was the pompano (en papillott) done in brown bags.
Former Cortez postmaster, veteran
John Blackburn was a good teacher, but if you did something wrong, he’d make you cut off a branch from a palmetto bush and pull off the leaves to make your own switch. It worked, too. You’d never do that again.
Henry Clayton “Jap” Adams
Commercial fisherman, veteran
In 1940, Jap Adams swam out to the Regina, a sinking molasses barge off Bradenton Beach, and saved two crewmen from drowning in the storm that sank her. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II in Africa under Gen. George Patton.
He and his five brothers served in three service branches: Cleveland “Cubie” Adams, Clyde Dillard “Doc” Adams, Leon “Buddy” Adams, Willis Howard “Snooks” Adams and William Hugh “Man” Adams.
Four of his brothers who served in the Navy were separated because of the Sullivans, five Iowa brothers who were killed serving on the same ship in 1942.
Artist, Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival coordinator
When I moved here in 1983, it was a sleepy little town. In the summertime, if one or two cars would go by it was a lot. It’s not like that now. People drive around and look.
You can’t blame them, because there are so few of these places left. They feel like it’s somehow a part of them. Word of mouth is telling people it’s a real place and not a tourist attraction. But you never know how long it’s going to last.