Dean Singleton says he won’t sell because the property, as well as several residential lots in the village, has belonged to his family since the 1700s. It’s an original Florida Spanish land grant. His family was part of a large Minorcan migration to Spanish-era Florida. A nearby Spanish graveyard holds the remains of a number of those first Minorcan colonists.
Meanwhile, the sprawling Mayport Naval Station was built across the street from the village in 1942, enclosing even the Old St. Johns Lighthouse, built in 1858. When, 60 years later, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority declared more than 1,000 feet of Mayport’s dock space inadequate, half the village’s fishing fleet left for other ports.
This clear, cool, sunny morning, Hurley and I watch pelicans perch on posts. The birds seem extensions of the salted wood, but prehistoric, their long beaks clattering like something Captain Ray carved into existence decades before.
Beside the long main dining room, Captain Ray’s Model Boat Room features close to 130 models Ray Singleton carved by hand. He began making scale models of actual Mayport shrimp boats in the 1930s. Using mahogany, cedar, and poplar, he built models from memory, often of boats that no longer existed.
When Ray Singleton no longer could go to sea, having lost a leg to infection, his boats gained recognition both as Florida folk art and vernacular historical documentation.
Ray died in 1996. His model boats are dusty, but they’re still here in place of the condos that could’ve been and probably still one day will. The memories his hands carved from cedar sit in silent moorage.
Those fishermen whose boats his hands recalled, they too lived, and brought the sea to land to feed the village so long only reached by boat. The earth provides, and most of the landscape is water.
Article by Tim Gilmore of Jax Psycho Geo. Tim Gilmore is the author of Devil in the Baptist Church: Bob Gray’s Unholy Trinity (2016), Central Georgia Schizophrenia (2016), The Mad Atlas of Virginia King (2015), Ghost Story / Love Song (2015), In Search of Eartha White (2014), The Ocean Highway at Night (2014), Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic (2013), Doors in the Light and the Water: The Life and Collected Work of Empty Boat (2013), This Kind of City: Ghost Stories and Psychological Landscapes (2012) and Ghost Compost: Strange Little Stories, illustrated by Nick Dunkenstein (2013). He is the creator of Jax Psycho Geo (www.jaxpsychogeo.com). His two volumes of poetry are Horoscopes for Goblins: Poems, 2006-2009 and Flights of Crows: Poems, 2002-2006. His audio poetry album Waiting in the Lost Rooms is available at https://eat-magazine.bandcamp.com/album/waiting-in-the-lost-rooms. He teaches at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He is the organizer of the Jax by Jax literary arts festival. www.jaxbyjax.com