New Berlin Crab Shack

by Tim Gilmore, 9/25/2016

cont’d from Dames Point

From beneath the Dames Point Bridge, I curve back up the peninsula, then turn again back toward the river on New Berlin Road. I arrive again at the river, where the “white side” of the old New Berlin fishing village rises north on dirt hills, and the “black side” descends down Apollo Avenue in the direction of distant downtown Jacksonville.

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I walk Frederick Street two blocks away from Apollo and the river. Roads through the hills are again unpaved, the hull of a small fishing boat floats, covered in air potato vines, against the pines, on concrete blocks. A gray cat shits beneath the boat and watches me stonily.

Shane Reed comes out to greet me. He’s friendly, assumes I’m a customer. The lush and dark green suffocating woods seethes and screams about the crab shack. Black letters on a crooked fencing panel that leans against the shack fill me in: “NEWBERLIN CRABS 312-8611.”

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Buoys and fishing nets wall the wooden walkway up to the 600 square-foot tin-roofed shack, which Shane tells me was his “Great Grandma Millie’s house.” She died long before he was born and her house has been the crab shack ever since. His family’s been here in New Berlin for more than a century.

The Reeds have about 300 regular loyal customers. Normally, he says, the shack would be open now, but his father’s out “blue-crabbin’.”

As Shane stands tall and thin, light white, wearing a camouflage baseball cap, he says, “We live on the black side of New Berlin, even though we’re white. We always have. We’re just weird that way, but New Berlin’s all intermarried anyway.”

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Shane grew up here and his father grew up here and his grandfather grew up here.

“Now they want to take New Berlin away from us,” he says.

“Who does?” I ask.

“The Port Authority. They got everything on all sides of us, and now they finally want the land we got too.” JaxPort’s conquest would be the end of real life on the peninsula, the end of New Berlin.

“Do you think they’ll get it?” I ask.

“Hell no,” he says. His father will never sell.

“You don’t think they’ll force you off the land?” I ask.

“They might force us off, but that don’t mean we’ll go.”