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Shipbuilding skill is alive and well in Manatee County

Fogarty Boat Works at the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton. Color postcard from 1993-2005.
Fogarty Boat Works at the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton. Color postcard from 1993-2005. State Archives of Florida

Shipwright is a term that is lost on many today. Traditionally, they are a carpenter skilled in ship construction and repair.

When we think of shipwrights in Manatee County, many of us might think of the Fogarty family who founded Fogartyville. John Fogarty was a captain, a shipwright, and is probably the most well-known Fogarty in the area. He happened upon Manatee County’s coast during a terrible storm in 1865. The coast, not yet inhabited, was merely referred to as an area of lower Tampa Bay that was sheltered by Anna Maria Key. The only people were located 4 miles away in Manatee Village, which had a population of less than 900 in 1860.

Much of John Fogarty’s story is detailed in “They Called It Fogartyville.” As a shipbuilder, he was impressed with the amount of “heavily wooded hammock” in the area and, as a fisherman, was also thrilled with the amount and sheer size of the fish found in our waters. After seeing this potential, it was impossible for John to stay away.

By 1867, John and his brother Tole Fogarty, along with their families, resided along the Manatee River. And it did not take long for another brother, Bartholomew (also known as Bill or Bat), to join them. Together, they started Fogarty Brothers Shipyard.

Wooden boat-building is no longer a skill that many of our residents learn. The trade, even though still in existence, diminishes with each passing year. The knowledge of the Fogarty brothers has not been lost, though.

Today, traditional folk artist Bob Pitt continues this trade and shares the knowledge with anyone who is interested. Robert William Pitt Jr. was born in Sarasota on Jan. 21, 1953. A true traditional Florida shipwright, Bob has continued the boat-building skills of his Bahamian ancestry. Not only is boat-building in his blood, but Bob also grew up learning trade stories from Charlie Fogarty, a descendant of Tole Fogarty, who worked with Bob’s father at Florida Power and Light.

Bob has been working as a boat carpenter since 1978 and shares his love for wooden boats through many outlets, including as a volunteer for the Florida Folklife Program, The Florida Maritime Museum, the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association and many other “individuals and organizations in their quests in this forgotten realm.” Bob continues in the path of the many who came before him, not only making sure that he does everything he can to make sure that these skills survive, but that the stories, the culture and the people who made the trade are remembered for future generations.

Interested in learning more about traditional boat building? Visit the Florida Maritime Museum to learn more about the tools and techniques of this traditional skill. Who knows, you might even run into Bob on your visit! The Florida Maritime Museum is located at 4415 119th St. W., Cortez.We are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The museum is free, but donations are appreciated. For more information, go to FloridaMaritimeMuseum. org or call 941-708-6120.

Kristin Sweeting, supervisor of the Florida Maritime Museum, enjoys learning and sharing stories of different cultures. Email: Kristin.Sweeting@ Phone: 941-708-6120