Florida's Forgotten Coast

  • Collection DOI:
    Principal Investigator:
    Amy Evans
  • Florida's Forgotten Coast oral history collection includes twenty-one interviews documenting the seafood industry in Franklin County, FL, with an emphasis on Apalachicola, plus two interviews relating to tupelo honey. Original Collection Housed at Archives & Special Collections at the University of Mississippi and online at www.southernfoodways.com.

Interviewee Collection Sort descending Description Interviewer Date of Interview Location of Interview Affiliation
Donald Smiley Florida's Forgotten Coast

The son of farmers, Donald Smiley was not born with the bay in his blood. He spent his childhood in the inland town of Wewahitchka, and, as a young man, Donald worked as an air conditioning technician in Panama City. 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, until in 1993 the industry was changing so much that Donald wanted out. As a hobby, he started tinkering with bees.

Amy Evans Wewahitchka, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Wes Birdsong Florida's Forgotten Coast

Oringinally from Atlanta, Wes Birdsong and his wife sailed into Apalachicola in 1996. They docked their boat in town at the Deep Water Marina & Boatyard. It soon it became obvious to Wes that the marina needed some attention, so 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. It was also a place for recreational boats to dry dock for repairs. In 2006 the Deep Water Marina & Boatyard closed.

Amy Evans Apalachicola, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Anthony Taranto Florida's Forgotten Coast

Anthony Taranto is the son of Italian immigrants. His parents, Joseph and Madeline Taranto, met in Apalachicola. In 1923 they opened their own seafood house, Taranto's Seafood, and Anthony was born nine years later. As a kid, Anthony remembers his father employing more than fifty shuckers, mostly African Americans. When he was old enough, he helped pack shrimp. They would pour the shrimp into wooden barrels, pack them with ice, and send them to New York on a train. Anthony took over his father's seafood business as an adult. But today, Taranto's Seafood is closed.

Amy Evans Apalachicola, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Melanie Cooper Covell Florida's Forgotten Coast

Melanie Cooper Covell is the seventh generation to call Apalachicola home. Born in 1968, she and her four siblings grew up working at their parents' business, Cooper's Seafood. Melanie has been shucking oysters since she was fifteen years old. The family business closed in 1994, when Melanie's father, Fred Cooper, passed away. Still, Melanie continued to shuck. And she painted houses too. In 2004 Melanie married Larry Covell. Together, they opened the Wheelhouse Raw Bar in downtown Apalachicola, where Melanie's brother, Joey, is the cook. His mullet dip is unrivaled.

Amy Evans Apalachicola, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Charles Thompson Florida's Forgotten Coast

Born in 1942, Charles Thompson spent thirty-plus years of his life as a shrimper. In the 1980s, he began making his own nets. Soon, though, Charles could see that the shrimp business was changing. In 1998 he decided to sell his last boat. Not wanting to sit idle, he began repairing nets and making new nets for the shrimpers in the area. At that time, other net shops in Franklin County were closing. A local net maker by the name of James Copeland passed his skills and his patterns on to Charles. Soon, Charles had a new demand for his handiwork.

Amy Evans Apalachicola, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Terry Dean Florida's Forgotten Coast

Terry Dean's grandmother, Monette Hicks, came to Eastpoint with her parents in 1916. Terry grew up listening to her grandmother's stories of what Eastpoint was like in the early days, when oysters were shucked in lean-tos on the shore, and there wasn't a thing on St. George Island, not even a bridge to get there. Electricity didn't arrive in Eastpoint until the 1950s. Still, dozens of seafood houses dotted the waterfront. In every family there was an oysterman, a shucker, or a crab picker, probably all three. Today, only a handful of seafood houses line the water's edge through Eastpoint.

Amy Evans Eastpoint, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Henry Tindell Florida's Forgotten Coast

Henry Tindell is a native of Alabama. As a teenager, he went to Eastpoint to visit an aunt and, inspired by his time there, he devised a plan for what to do when he finished high school. But Henry was too eager to get on the water, so in 1963 he moved to Eastpoint and finished his senior year up the road in Carrabelle. Soon after, he began harvesting oysters and crabs and has been working on the bay ever since. In the 1980s, as imports began replacing the local hard crab business, soft-shell crabs became popular, so Henry began cultivating them.

Amy Evans Eastpoint, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
James Hicks Florida's Forgotten Coast

In 1942, the year James Hicks was born, dozens of families lived and worked thirteen miles west of Apalachicola. Their lives revolved around Miller's Fish & Oyster Company on the west end of the Apalachicola Bay, with a clear view of Indian Pass and St. Vincent Island. The Hicks family was one of those families. James's father, Henry Harrison Hicks, worked for the Millers. James followed suit, working on the bay by the time he was twelve years old. He oystered for near thirty-five years before he decided to hang his hat and get a more reliable job.

Amy Evans , Apalachicola, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Tommy Ward Florida's Forgotten Coast

Born in 1961, Tommy Ward grew up with an appreciation for the place he still calls home. His parents, Buddy and Martha Pearl Ward, raised Tommy in the business out at their seafood house, 13 Mile. The remote location, thirteen miles west of Apalachicola, gave Tommy a hands-on education in his natural surroundings and life on the bay. As a teenager, Tommy left home and spent some time away at college. He also paid his dues working at some other seafood houses in Apalachicola. Eventually, he returned to the family business. But 13 Mile is not just his business. It's his heritage.

Amy Evans Apalachicola, FL Southern Foodways Alliance
Monette Hicks Florida's Forgotten Coast

Born in 1916, Monette Hicks grew up in Eastpoint. In those days, boats didn't have motors, there weren't any bridges over the bay, and there were no houses on St. George Island. Seafood was all anyone knew. Monette's family worked the bay harvesting oysters. She quit school at the age of twelve, when she was big enough to shuck. 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.

Amy Evans Eastpoint, FL Southern Foodways Alliance