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Sunday Favorites: The Storm that Crushed Cortez

The Albion Inn of Cortez as it looked before the hurricane of 1921.

It came without warning. At least, that’s how folks in Cortez remember it. Back in 1921, there was only one telephone in the village.

The western skyline was already black by the time it rang. The loud drone of the telephone startled Mr. Brown, who owned the village's only general store. When he picked up the receiver someone from Western Union relayed pertinent information. 

“A hurricane is headed your way,” they said.

But by then, it was too late. 

Bill Guthrie’s family owned the Albion Inn.

Guthrie had been through storms before, but nothing like the storm of 1921. 

“Usually the tide would come over and we’d wade around here in knee deep water,” he said during a 1957 interview with the Manatee County Historical Society.

The Albion Inn as it looked following the hurricane of 1921.

There were no preparations made: no windows boarded up, no supplies collected. 

It had stormed all night and the tides and rain flooded Cortez. 

The next morning, when folks woke up to find water in their homes, they decided to abandon their small village and head to Bradenton.

“You see, it taken quite a time for the seas to beat these buildings down,” Guthrie said. 

Doris Green was only six years old at the time, but she remembers the tide lifting her home from its foundation and carrying it away.

“It just floated off like a big ol’ wooden box,” she said during the interview. “The tide just set it down further out.”

Doris remembers seeing other houses float out to sea before her eyes.

The hurricane of 1921 destroyed all the fishing docks in Cortez Fishing Village.

Cortez was a fishing community. Many of the fisherman at that time lived in fish camps, or shacks on stilts over the water surrounded by docks and net spreads were they could dry their nets and catches at the end of the day. The hurricane destroyed the majority of these fishing operations, along with many of the offshore vessels used by the fishermen.

Guthrie knew he had to get his family out, but the only way to escape the rising tides was by boat.

Guthrie, three women, the dog and a baby loaded into a small boat and head into Bradenton. They made it as far as Paradise Trailer Park, 10315 Cortez Road, before trying to call for help.

The heavy winds had ripped down the power lines, so calling for help was impossible. 

Guthrie threw his 2-year-old daughter, Margarite, over his shoulder and started walking. His wife and kids followed behind, Guthrie’s body shielding them from the pelting rain. 

Through the stormy gusts Guthrie could see something coming toward them, a car. An unknown man from Bradenton had come to the rescue. Guthrie and his family loaded into the vehicle and headed to the Bradenton Hotel on Main Street. 

There was no room for Guthrie, so he left his family and went to another hotel to seek shelter. 

A family sorts through the wreckage of their former home, destroyed by the hurricane. 

The man and his family returned to Cortez the next day to view the destruction.

“It was a sorry sight,” he remembered. “The whole hotel was gone. There was nothing left but pilings and boats piled up on top of each other.”

The whole waterfront was gone, but inland homes remained. Guthrie says the southeastern winds were the reason the waterfront was destroyed.

But people gathered their belongings from the wreckage along the shoreline and started over. 


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