CORTEZ – Cortez may be the last fishing village in the state, and was certainly one of the first, settled in the 1880s by fishermen from Carteret County, North Carolina, Cortez native Allen Garner told a tour group on Saturday on Cortez Heritage Day.
About 15 people toured the village by bus, starting at the community’s second-oldest 1912 schoolhouse – now the Florida Maritime Museum – with stops including the old Cortez jail (now a homeowner’s laundry room), a home that was once the Cortez post office, a home with a foundation that was a former loading dock for an icehouse, and the village’s oldest 1890 schoolhouse, also a home.
The area, formerly known as Hunters Point, was misnamed “Cortez” by “someone who didn’t know their history,” said Garner, whose family has a long history in the village, beginning in 1902 (he holds Cortez P.O. Box 2). The name was intended to reflect the nearby landing of 16th-century Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in Bradenton, but 16th-century Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez accidentally wound up as the village’s namesake, he said.
Garner recounted how the Albion Inn, a hotel and store relocated to the Florida Maritime Museum property, was the only building in Cortez besides the museum that survived the hurricane of 1921, before storms were named.
Cortez native and local historian and author Dr. Mary Fulford Green, 93, dressed as her grandmother, Sally Adams Fulford, the first bride in Cortez, told visitors at the Cortez Cultural Center about other difficulties villagers have faced, such as keeping boatbuilder Chris Craft and condo developers from building in Cortez, and saving the Cortez Trailer Park from redevelopment.
She recounted Cortezians’ successful efforts in 1995 to fight a new, higher Cortez Bridge, using the argument that federal funds cannot be used to build a bridge if it will impact a federal historic district; Green was instrumental in getting federal historic district status for Cortez. However, the bridge fight was lost last year when a new, 65-foot-tall bridge was approved by the state Department of Transportation.
1995 was a tough year in Cortez, not just because of the bridge battle, but because Floridians voted for a statewide ban on gill nets used by Cortez mullet fishermen, Garner said. Voters were misled into thinking the nets created “bycatch” – unintended catch of dolphins, sea turtles and other species – by recreational fishermen who had launched the effort to ban the nets, he said, adding that the gill nets actually targeted mature mullet effectively, letting juvenile fish swim through.
Partly as a result of such regulations, local fish are more costly than those processed in other countries, Garner said.
“Regulations cause us more problems than red tide,” he said.
Fishermen use purse seine nets now, he said, and traps to catch blue crab and stone crab, pointing out a historic net camp preserved in Sarasota Bay by villagers and once used to dry and store cotton and linen nets.
Visitors saw the Cortez Fishermen’s Memorial, commemorating the village’s veterans in U.S. wars, including 67 who served in World War II, and local fishermen lost at sea, including Cortez crew members of the Andrea Gail, whose story was told in the film, “The Perfect Storm.”
They also watched as people forged metal knife blades by hand, one of the Folk School classes offered by the Florida Maritime Museum.
After the tour, the Cortez Village Historical Society welcomed everyone for an early St. Patrick’s Day celebration with corned beef and cabbage with live, local music by Cortez fisherman Soupy Davis and his band to close Heritage Day 2019.