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Old J.W. Ferguson seafood plant razed

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Portions of the oyster shucking and breading buildings at the former J.W. Ferguson seafood plant in Remlik were torn down this week to make room for the expansion of Remlik Marina. Several decades ago the plant was one of the largest employers in Middlesex County and prepared Chesapeake Bay oysters for distribution throughout the United States and Canada. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry Chowning

The defunct J.W. Ferguson Seafood Company facility on LaGrange Creek in Remlik was torn down this week to make room for the future expansion of Remlik Marina.

For a while, Ferguson’s Seafood was one of the largest distributors of Virginia oysters in the country. The facility was run by James Waverly “Buster” Ferguson Sr. and his son Waverly from 1948 into the late 1980s. It started out as a crab and fish seafood buying house.

The firm owned several oyster buyboats and purchased oysters from oyster tongers. The Fergusons also leased 7,500 acres of oyster grounds from the state to grow oysters. The grounds were on the Rappahannock, Piankatank, James, York, Great Wicomico and East rivers, and on Mobjack Bay and Little Bay.

The company operated a fleet of refrigerated trucks that carried oysters to states east of the Mississippi and to Canada. In 1956 Buster Ferguson introduced frozen breaded oysters to the market. A pioneer in the field, he was the first packer in the United States to produce breaded oysters ready to cook. 

MSX, an oyster-killing bacteria that killed millions of Chesapeake Bay oysters starting in 1959, contributed greatly to forcing businesses like Ferguson’s to close.

Virginia’s oysters are making a comeback, but much of the waterfront infrastructure needed to accommodate this growth is being torn down at a rapid rate.

If oyster harvests reach the heights of days of old and other national and international markets develop, there could well be a need again for large shucking houses, such as Ferguson’s, close to the water.

posted 02.10.2016

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