Shrimp Festival History

Dated: 03/03/2019

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Since this is Shrimp Festival Week, I am going to continue on the subject of shrimping for the next couple of posts.  I remember when I was a kid, my father would go to San Carlos Marina every afternoon to watch the fishing boats dock and see what they were catching.  

Back in those days, the old swing bridge was in operation, and as I waited at the end of the marina dock, I would watch the shrimp boats return to their home port on the other side of the bridge.  There was even a sign before the bridge warning those wanting to get on the island that between 4 and 6 PM, the bridge would be opening to let the shrimp boats come through, so be prepared to stop and wait.  And wait they did.  People would just park their cars on the bridge, get out, and watch the boats as they came through the bridge and docked on San Carlos Island. 


In the 1950s and 60s, there were at least four different fish houses operating out of San Carlos Island.   It was not uncommon to see four or five boats rafted together all along the waterfront.  Once each year, the entire island would gather to spend a weekend celebrating the shrimping industry.  The shrimp festival would kick off on a Sunday when the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese would arrive to bless the fleet.  

Most of the shrimpers would decorate their boats and come through the old swing bridge, parading out to the gulf side where they would be blessed from either the pier or the beach.  A couple of years ago, I was working on the History of St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church for a library display and I came across several articles on the church’s involvement in the Blessing of the Fleet.  One article stated that up to 20,000 people would show up to watch the blessings.  

As a teenager I remember the ceremony would be broadcast live on WMYR, the local radio station.   Again, in the archives of St. Raphael’s, I also came across an article stating that the women of the parish sold over 2,000 “famous shrimp rolls” at a Blessing of the Fleet in the 1950s. Today, the festival continues to grow in popularity, but the Blessing of the Fleet has gone by the wayside.  More on that in a later post. 

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Ellie Bunting

Ellie has returned to real estate sales after spending the last 40 years teaching English at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers She has teamed up with her husband, Bob, who has been a....

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