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Apalachicola Historical Society, Inc.
P.O. Box 75
Apalachicola, Florida 32329

Reprinted by Permission

Chapter 1 - The Indians
Chapter 2 - The Spanish
Chapter 3 - The English
Chapter 4 - Scottish Traders
Chapter 5 - The United States
Chapter 6 - The Settlements
Chapter 7 - Apalachicola
Chapter 8 - The Civil War
Chapter 9 - Cypress
Chapter 10 - World War II
Chapter 11 - Seafood
Selected Bibliography
Chapter 11 - Seafood

Commercially sold in Apalachicola as early as 1836, oysters were not harvested in any quantity until the 1850's. Intensive efforts to exploit the beds in Apalachicola began in 1870 with John C. Messina and Company, Yent and Alexander, John Miller and Joseph Segree. John G. Ruge was an important figure in the local shellfish industry. Born in Apalachicola in 1854, the son of Herman Ruge, who had migrated from Hanover, Germany in the early 1840's, John and his brother George worked for their father in his machine shop and hardware store until they changed the name of the firm from Herman Ruge and Sons to the Ruge Brothers Canning Company in 1885. Taking advantage of pasteurization, they became Florida's first successful commercial packers (under the "Alligator" brand). John Ruge was among the first to advocate planting oyster shells near the natural beds for juvenile oysters (spat) to settle upon. In 1918, William Popham, a land promoter in Apalachicola and St. George Island, further advocated the deliberate cultivation of oysters in Apalachicola Bay. Stephen Rice and Joseph Messina also helped establish shellfish sales. Rice, born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1838, moved to Texas, commanded a Confederate infantry unit in the Civil War, and moved to Apalachicola in 1882. He and his two sons, Stephen, Jr., and Rob Roy, founded a large and successful oyster packing company. Locally born Joseph Messina gained control of the Bay City Packing Company in 1896 and marketed a variety of seafood products under the "Pearl" brand. From the mid-1870's to the early decades of the twentieth century, Apalachicola was part of Florida's sponge industry. The local sponge trade came to rank third in the state. By 1895, between 80 and 120 men were employed in it, and the city had two sponge warehouses. Later, as the major Greek sponge operations moved down the coast to Carrabelle, Cedar Key and Tarpon Springs, shrimp and sponge operations continued in Apalachicola with the Greek sailing fleet and Democritus Manglomanus (Demo George). The Apalachicola Northern Railroad came into Apalachicola in 1907 and ran an "oyster special" to Atlanta with oysters packed in ice. By 1915, some 400 men manned 117 oyster boats under sail, 250 shuckers worked in various oyster houses, and a number of other workers worked in two canneries. The Bay City Packing Company in 1915 was shipping canned shrimp to Boston and other markets as well as trading in fresh shrimp. Each spring, large sturgeon appeared in the bay to spawn upriver. Captain Anderson and his crew would catch as many as 70 in a 24-hour period to meet the demand for caviar, as well as general consumption. This process was disrupted in 1935 with the construction of the Jim Woodruff dam. Pole fishing, of course, was always a local pastime. In the 1980's and 1990's, habitat incursions, urban development and market demands brought severe pressure on the fresh seafood industry.

Today, Apalachicola is the headquarters of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve and Estuarine Sanctuary of 196,000 acres.

St. James Episcopal Church Many thanks to another of our fine sponsors:

St. James Episcopal Church