John Appleyard(Photo: News Journal file photo)

Smacks — small fishing boats — are docked in Pensacola in this undated photo. (Photo: Courtesy of UWF Historic Trust)

 

Northwest Florida’s economic history usually places illustrations on the years 1870 to 1965, when over time three large organizations plied the fishing trade. During those years the Sewell Cobb firm, Warren Fish Company and the E.E. Sanders and Company became sizable employers, using a total of as many as 60 well-built smacks for a trade that took the skilled lineman far into the gulf, often off the coast of Mexico.

This trade became possible when local ice production provided practical cooling for the fish-filled box cars, the cars coming, of course, when the L&N Railroad’s trackage would bring the fresh-iced fish to markets to the north. Usually the industry is detailed within those factors; however, there were two other tales that illustrated the ingenuity of men in their desire to earn a dollar. The first illustration began in the 1840s.

In that decade fishermen from the northeastern coast of Canada began ventures to the gulf. As their first step they would cut caked ice from ponds, then pack their vessels as solid as possible. Arriving at Pensacola the crews would land, acquire necessary supplies, then move onto the gulf grounds for grouper and snapper. The fish were partially cleaned, then packed with ice. Their catch complete, the crews and vessels next moved north along the south Atlantic coast, making sales stops in ports like Savannah and Charleston, marketing luxury sea food to willing buyers. Apparently the ice supply proved just right, thus the fishermen returned home with a pocket full of money and plans for further expeditions. It is unclear how many crews of this kind made the winter run, or

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