Freedom – and food – will be the focus of most Fourth of July get togethers today. The aroma of grilled steaks, burgers and chicken will drift through many neighborhoods as families and friends celebrate America’s independence.
But if you’re a member of the Versaggi clan, it wouldn’t be a celebration without shrimp – which is now the most widely consumed seafood not only in the United States, but also the entire world. Locally, the city of St. Augustine designated wild-caught shrimp as its official seafood on April 26, 2021.
More than 100 grandchildren and spouses of Salvatore and Vincenzina Versaggi, some local, others from other parts of Florida, Louisiana, Texas, California, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina and even New Zealand, continued the tradition begun in the 1960s by their parents by having a family reunion over the Fourth of July weekend at the family property on 7th Street in St. Augustine Beach, according to Grace Spiller Paaso, granddaughter of Salvatore and Vincenzina Versaggi.
Previous coverage:Monument recognizes St. Augustine families who launched ‘cradle’ of shrimping industry
An overdue honor:St. Johns County WWII veterans receive Congressional Gold Medals
“It is on the Fourth of July weekend because when our parents (the children of Salvatore and Vincenzina) began the reunions they chose that weekend,” Paaso explained, adding that tradition rules in the Versaggi family.
“The meetings had been every five years until COVID shot that schedule into oblivion. Salvatore and Vincenzina immigrated to the US for a better life and got it. It seems only natural to celebrate on the birthday of this country,” she said.
Salvatore Versaggi was a pioneer in the shrimping industry along with his two brothers-in-law, Sollicito “Mike” Salvador and Antonio Poli.
Planned Fourth of July reunion family activities include fun time at St. Augustine Beach, visiting with family members, eating shrimp cooked with family recipes, and a visit to the shrimping and boat building monument located on the San Sebastian River at 173 Shipyard Way in St .Augustin. The monument was dedicated on May 1, 2021, honoring St. Augustine’s family of shrimpers, boat builders and marine artisans.
Although the Versaggi’s menu focuses on shrimp (including shrimp cocktail, shrimp plau, fried shrimp) Paaso confirms that there is some meat at the event.
“We’ll also have some grilled Italian sausage and anything else Italian,” she said with a chuckle.
The Versaggi certified wild shrimp business continues to thrive, now out of Tampa. More information on the Versaggi contributions to the shrimping industry both locally and in other parts of the country can be found in the Florida Historical Society-produced episode of Florida Frontiers which depicts the history of shrimping in Florida. It is available at bit.ly/3R4x2xH.
St. Augustine’s shrimping history is also available in exhibits at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.
Parking for the Fourth of July fireworks
The city of St. Augustine will host its annual Fireworks Over the Matanzas celebration from 6 to 10 pm, starting with a performance by the All-Star Orchestra at 6 pm at the Castillo de San Marcos. The fireworks begin at 9:30 pm
There will be many road closings between 8 and 11 pm including Aveneda Menendez and South Castillo Drive. The Bridge of Lions will be closed to both boat and vehicle traffic. If you live or are staying on Anastasia Island, there is an alternative.
July 4th fireworks in St. Augustine:Evening event planned on the bayfront
Free park and ride shuttles will be available from 6 pm until midnight. The shuttles will run from four island locations to the park on the east side of the Bridge of Lions. Parking will be free at Anastasia Baptist Church (1650 A1A S.), St. Augustine Amphitheater (1340-C A1A S.), RB Hunt Elementary School (125 Magnolia Drive), and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park (999 Anastasia Blvd.)
Following the fireworks, the shuttle will pick up passengers at the drop-off location on the east end of the Bridge of Lions. Old Town Trolley Tours and Ripley’s Red Train Tours will provide a dozen buses for the free shuttle service.
For information, visit bit.ly/3ukg70c.
A year-round reminder: It is illegal to possess fireworks, consume alcohol, or create an open fire on a St. Johns County Beach.
After the celebration
Most beachgoers remove their belongings and trash at the end of their beach fun, but there are always remnants of a busy weekend left on the sand – paper and plastic bags and straws, cigarette butts, food particles and other objects.
At this time of the year – sea turtle nesting season, with more than 600 nests already on our beaches – clean beaches are even more vital as new nests continue to be laid and hatchlings will soon begin to emerge from earlier laid nests.
Kid’s fishing tourney
St. Johns County Park and Recreation is hosting a free catch and release fishing tournament for ages 4-12 on Saturday, July 23, at St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier. “Reel in the Fun” begins with check-in at 8 am The tourney runs from 9 to 11 am with an awards ceremony at 11:30 am An adult supervisor is required for each contestant. Registration is required by July 18. For details, call 904-209-0333, visit bit.ly/3Ao3C7W or contact the pier gift shop at 904-209-0326.
Coming soon to A1A Beach Boulevard
At least three LED-lighted crosswalks are planned along Beach Boulevard in the coming months. The crosswalk areas include 11th Street, 16th Street and at Pier Park and will replace the current flag crossing system. The flag system has been in place for almost a decade, however with more traffic and distractions, the lighted crosswalks are expected to increase safety. The flags will be repurposed in other areas of St. Augustine Beach.
There will be no Music by the Sea concerts at Pier Park during the month of July. The weekly concert series sponsored by the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association will resume on Aug. 17 with Wednesday concerts scheduled through Sept. 21. For updates and information on the series, visit bit.ly/3OI99KG.
Have news to share about Anastasia Island or the adjoining areas? Send your information about people and events to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 904-471-4851.