Arts + Culture

Going Places: Last of the Great Fishing Villages

See the charm of historic Cortez, Florida, before it’s overtaken by tourists and commercial interests.

  There was a time when tiny fishing villages ran up and down the coast of Florida. In these secluded outposts beside the water, fishermen made their livelihood from catching mullet, redfish, trout, pompano and mackerel. In my memory of these villages—though they were already disappearing when I was a child—brightly colored houses lined the streets, hibiscus bushes filled the yards and mangy cats stared out from front porches. The air carried the weight and feel of the sea. For the most part these places have vanished, casualties of the commercial net ban in the 1990s and the relentless gentrification that is changing the face of Florida today. But a few small fishing towns still exist. The historic village of Cortez, west of Bradenton before you reach Anna Maria Island, is one of them. Set alongside the intracoastal waterway, Cortez still has a commercial fishing fleet, and many of its founding families continue to live in the village. The town has preserved much of its original charm, managing to hold out against commercial development and rampant tourism. There’s no telling how long that will last, and I decided to visit before this historic outpost disappears. Fishing boats on the docks in Cortez. I started my tour with a stroll through the maritime museum, set in the one-time Cortez schoolhouse. The museum itself is small, but it offers a permanent exhibit on the history of the village—how the first settl
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