Florida Folklife Program
Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: Ray Singleton
Ray SingletonCourtesy of Florida State Archives/Florida Folklife Program Collection. Photo by Merri Belland.
Ray Singleton (1923 - 1997) - 1991 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Captain Ray Singleton was a restaurateur, model boat builder, oral historian, and retired shrimper. He was born and raised in Mayport, a small fishing town in north of Jacksonville. Singleton’s grandfather, Bubba, came to Mayport to sail giant ships into the port. His grandmother, Aunt Sally, ran a hamburger and hot dog stand, at the town center, and his father skippered a dredge. By14, Singleton was working with various maritime industries, including working on charter fishing boats and shrimping. He and his wife Ann opened a fish market, which eventually became a well-regarded restaurant, Singleton’s Seafood Shack. Except for four years on an aircraft carrier during World War II, Singleton spent his life in Mayport.
In the 1930s, he began building scale models of the shrimp boats he had known around the Mayport area. He worked without plans or photographs to recreate the vessels which, in many cases, no longer existed. He painted his early boats, but simply gave a polyurethane coating to the later ones to bring out the natural wood grain and color. Woods he used included poplar, mahogany and cedar. He did not sell these finely crafted and highly detailed models of actual boats, but displayed them in his restaurant.
Singleton was also a chronicler of local history and shared the lore and wisdom of the Mayport fishing community with a new generation; the boat models provided a natural starting point for hours of reminiscences. Although the models were by themselves, their value was magnified with the addition of his narratives about the vessels they represent.
Visitors can still view Singleton’s boats at the family restaurant. He passed on a passion for building model boats to his son Johnny, who continues to build model boats and lighthouses.