Manatee History Matters: 1921 hurricane hit Cortez hard

May 13, 2014 

In Cortez, the 1921 hurricane remains a reminder of the devastation a storm can cause to a community. The storm developed into a hurricane on Oct. 21, 1921, in the Caribbean Sea.

Over the following days, the storm slipped between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba before swinging east toward Florida. When it slammed into Florida's west coast at Tarpon Springs, the storm was reported as a Category 3 with winds reaching upwards of 100 mph.

The rain began to fall on Oct. 23, and by the next day a hurricane warning was issued that included almost the entire West Coast, from the Florida Keys to Apalachicola. These warnings, however, did the residents of Cortez little good as there was only one radio in the fishing village, located in the Albion Inn, and very few people in the village owned a car.

By the next morning, the village was flooded. Many of the residents fled their homes during the night, taking their boats down flooded streets with increasingly strong currents towards Bradentown (the original name for the Bradenton commu

nity) or to the Cortez Rural Graded School. The school (which houses the Florida Maritime Museum today) was one of the primary shelters due to its higher elevation and location away from the docks.

When the storm cleared, the only building remaining on the Cortez waterfront was the Albion Inn. The villagers immediately began to salvage what they could from the wreckage, which included items from destroyed homes as well as fishing gear and nets.

No one was spared from the storm's damages. The storm cost Joe Guthrie, owner of the Albion Inn, $15,000 in damage to the store, docks and fish houses that he owned. M.F. Brown lost both his store and his home located above the store, which amounted to another $15,000 in damages.

Despite the damages, Cortez escaped the hurricane without loss of life. The 1921 hurricane claimed eight lives statewide. Its devastation caused $3 million to $5 million in damages (which would be approximately $20 million to $30 million today).

The village of Cortez has survived its share of depressions, hurricanes, tightening fishing regulations, and numerous land booms. Through this, its tenacity and strong ties to the past have allowed it to become the oldest continually running commercial fishing village in Florida.

Hurricane season has been relatively kind to the state of Florida in recent years, compared to years past. As we recognize how lucky we have been, it is also important to realize that each year brings new uncertainties about the possibility of a hurricane and the danger they can bring.

The Burton Store (also referred to as the Bratton Store) is the only part of the Albion Inn that exists today. The Cortez Village Historical Society saved the building from slated demolition and had it moved to the campus of the Florida Maritime Museum, where it remains today. The museum is raising funds to renovate the store, which will house a multipurpose educational space, collection storage and a library.

Krystin Van Leuven, curator for the Florida Maritime Museum, wrote this week's Manatee History Matters column for the Bradenton Herald. She grew up in Manatee County and treasures the unique history of the area. She can be reached at krystin.vanleuven@manateeclerk.com or 941.708.6120.

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