We are now at La Belle Florida at the Corps of Engineer, Ortano Lock park. We have been here before, and will be just here tonight.
We left Key Biscayne about 11 this morning, pretty bittersweet, it was a great place, got in a lot of ocean swimming in the last week, and also an awesome tan. We will be back next year, but time to move on.
Drove 163 miles today and it felt forever, it was a pain in the ass, getting out of Miami and all the traffic, it’s just one big concrete jungle there. Other than that move on to the top of Florida tomorrow.
WOW, Long time since I have made a post. Melissa has been doing a very nice job posting as of late. My long awaited post on the history of Key Biscayne Florida is here.
The little barrier island of Key Biscayne is right off the Florida coast next to Miami. It is not part of the “Florida Keys”. As you may recall they are at the extreme southern end of Florida and are made up of ancient coral. Key Biscayne is made up of millions of years of sand, and debris deposits, just like most of Florida is. It is also very small about 1 mile wide and 5 miles long.
A thousand years before Columbus sailed, the “Tequesta” inhabited the island. They were coastal fisherman, and navigated in there dug out canoes between the island and the mainland. The first to really discover this area was “Juan Ponce De Leon” in 1513 as he was sailing from Puerto Rico to find cities of gold. He landed here because of the islands distinctive location and the fresh water and firewood here, then claimed it for Spain and called it “Santa Marta”. The king of Spain then gave the island to Pedro Fornelis a native of Minorea.
But 50 years later in 1563 the ruthless Pedro Menendez de Avila took refuge from a hurricane on the Key. Avila had been on an expedition ordered by the King of Spain in which he was to establish the settlement of St. Augustine and massacre any French protestant “heretics” nearby. Avila established relations with the Tequesta. A mission was built, with Jesuit priests and soldiers left behind to ensure the heathen Tequesta became proper Christians. Before long the Tequesta and their new Spanish friends weren’t getting along, and well, you can guess how that one ended. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, many a Spanish galleon laden with gold met its demise on the treacherous shoals and reefs off Key Biscayne . Much of the treasure is still yet to be found. At some point, the place became known as Vizcaya (Biscayne) when a sailor from that Iberian region was shipwrecked on the island. Hence the name.
It was a prominent landmark for the earliest navigators in American waters. In the mid 1700’s pirates ruled the area, and made the island there home as it had fresh water and a hidden harbor. Any ships not escorted by war ships were easy prey. Not till the first part of the 1800’s did the fledgeling U. S. navy get ride of them. By that time Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. As a result of this, Mary Ann Davis of St. Augustine purchased the island from the Fornelis family for $100. The Davis family sold three acres to the U.S. Government for a military reservation for $225. 1822 saw the first light house put up at the southern most end of the island. Times were tough then on this tiny island with even the light house being burned down in 1836 as part of the Seminole Indian war down here. In 1847 it was rebuilt farther inland and made 95 feet tall. During the Civil war it went back and forth in Union and Confederate hands till finally just before the war ended it fell into Union hands for good.
Up until almost 1900 there we few people on the island besides the light house keeper and family. However in 1893 a guy by the name of Waters Smith Davis(Son of Mary Ann Davis) inherited the little island. He surveyed the land cut timber down ,and built a house on the southern end called “Cape house”. The first private water front home here. He then planted a huge pineapple and coconut plantation, which covered most of the island. . In the early 1900s, Dr. William John Matheson sailed his yacht from New York to Key Biscayne, befriended Mr. Davis, began buying up land and soon began draining swamps and building roads. A unnamed 1926 hurricane however submerged the island as the eye passed directly over the Key. Restoring the plantation was costly to the Mathesons. W.J. Matheson died of a heart attack in 1930. He had divided the ownership of his land into a northern half and southern half. Each of his three children, Hugh, Malcolm and Nan (Ana Wood), owned one-third of each section. The plantation was not pretty much destroyed. In the 1940s’ then County Commissioner, Charles Crandon, persuaded W.J. Matheson’s heirs to donate 680 acres of the island for a county park called ” Crandon Park” on the northern tip of the island, in exchange for a bridge. When the Rickenbacker Causeway opened, it sparked a boom. Also In the 1940s the island was the location for several movies including “They Were Expendable” with John Wayne. The films capitalized on the Key’e appearance of South Seas islands with its groves of palm trees.
In 1950, the Mackle Company purchased Nan’s southern third of the middle of the Key and built 289 cement block homes targeted to veterans with attractive financing. Also built on the ocean were the Key Biscayne Villas, later to become the Key Biscayne Hotel and Villas. A shopping center was built and land was donated for a school. With great success, the Mackle brothers – Frank, Bob and Elliot – purchased more land and developed more homes up to Heather Drive Even today they make up more than half the single-family houses on the island. The Key Biscayne Hotel opened in 1952. Today the remaining “Mackles” homes are well over a million dollars to purchase.
The Key Biscayne Hotel and Villas hosted many famous celebrities and politicians. Vice President Richard Nixon stayed there and was part of a famous meeting with John Kennedy occurred when Kennedy defeated Nixon in 1960. When Nixon was elected President he established the “Winter White House”, a compound of Bay Lane properties on Biscayne Bay .Key Biscayne had become the “Island Paradise”
As the village grew, it needed more space, a massive sub division was planned for the bottom third of the island. A man by the name of Bill Baggs got wind of this and wrote a series of articles, on why it should be turned into a park, a state park better yet. So the sub division was off, and in 1966 the state bought the lower park of Key Biscayne and opened Bill Baggs Cape Florida State park. A far cry from what it is today however, not many roads into it, not even a good beach, NO BEACH. The park was covered in Austrailian pines which are dirty and nasty trees. The draw however wad the light house, which a lot of people wanted to see. In 1978 it was rebuilt again, modified, a new keepers cottage, and some trails put in. As the years rolled by the village grew, with more people coming in to visit and live.
Then in 1992 everyone’s little quaint world here came to an end. Around here they call it pre 1992 or post 1992, WHY, Hurricane Andrew, that’s why. It decide to pay a visit to the little island paradise, which was not a paradise after it left. The cat 5 hurricane saw the northern eyewall of the storm hit Key Biscayne hit right at Bill Baggs, and inundated the area, wiped out almost all of the invasive Australian trees, along with everything else. However it was a blessing in disguise. Although it took years to get ride of all the trees and set up the park as it is today, it did one fantastic thing, where there was really no beach there became a beautiful sandy beach along the Atlantic side of the island,. today it is still one of the top 10 beaches to visit in the country. How do you like that, Nature at it’s worst and finest.
So there you have a condensed version of the history of Key Biscayne.
My Dear friend Mary, whom I’ve know from school, and her husband Don, spent most of the winter in Florida and we got a chance to meet up with them at Ft. Pierece.
Ft pierce is a 340-acre Florida State Park located just north of the Fort Pierce Inlet. It consists of beaches, dunes and a coastal hammock between the Atlantic Ocean and the waters of Tucker Cove, an indentation of the Indian River Lagoon. It’s a smaller day use park with activities like fishing, swimming, picnicking, hiking, birding, scuba diving and snorkeling and there also is a half-mile beach. “Surfing is also very popular here because of the different windswells from distant groundswells hat makes for good surf.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds good.
Mary & Don treated us to lunch for our anniversary at Sharky’s restaurant in Ft. Pierce, it was very good! The time went by way to fast as it always does when your visiting with old treasured friends that have been part of your life thru good and bad. Love you both!
Old Friends, old clothes, old books. One needs constants in a traveling life.
— Dorothy Gilman
We also got to show our friends Barb & Bill around Bill Baggs!
We met Barb & Bill at Pennekamp State Park in 2019 when we were all volunteering for the first time. We also got to spend time with them volunteering at Pennekamp this year. They came up to visit us for the day at Bill Baggs. We walked around the park and took them to the Ligthouse and cabin.
We all walked up the lighthouse stairs to see the beautiful view!
Bill & Barb treated us to a very good dinner at the Boater’s Grill inside Bill Baggs ! !
We had a great day showing our good friends around the park! Looking forward to seeing them in Key Largo next year for more good times!
Key Biscayne is an island village, four miles long and two miles wide, located south and east of downtown Miami. The village is connected to Miami via the Rickenbacker Causeway. Key Biscayne is home to two miles of beachfront plus two major parks, Crandon Park and Bill Baggs State Park.
The East side of the village is on the the beachside. The beach goes from Crandon Park beach to Bill Baggs State Park. The village side on the beach has either condos, apartmernts or luxury hotels, some with a beach access. I walked or rode my bike and took a few pictures and checked it out.
Some of the hotels and condos along the beach side, with the library mixed in.
The west side of the village has the businesses and behind them are the private homes.
Pictures of some of the businesses we see when entering and leaving the park.
In the Village Green they have a very nice dog park that has artificial turf instead of grass.
Fire Department and Village Hall photos
These are the Mansions, private homes, a lot of them are on the canal or have a beach access. There is no poor section in the Village.
I copied this from a magazine article I read. “The Village is home to approximately 12, 600 people and a variety of luxury real estate including oceanfront condos, such as the ultra, ultra-luxe Oceana Key Biscayne, along with single-family homes. The island holds a distinctive, cool vibe complete with locals getting around by golf cart. “The Key,” as most refer to it, also offers a variety of shopping centers including retail and office space, along with many parks, recreation, a public library and one of the most prestigious private schools in South Florida, MAST Academy. It is truly a tropical paradise, an island retreat of swaying palm trees in the cool breezes off the ocean and bay, and with blue skies and sunny beaches.”
And another article I read said this- “Key Biscayne is always showing up on different lists as one of the most expensive places to live or vacation in Florida. The folks here are plain loaded. The average price of a home being $ 1.7 million bucks., The media income for a family is $135,000. And the people here are by far the smartest in the entire state, where more than 3 out of 4 people has a college degree. And they’ll be the first to tell you they can be snooty doing so. There are also several snobby hotels here, include the Ritz-Carlton, The Ocean Club and The Grand Bay.
Two different outlooks on Key Biscayne for sure. I can only say I have seen both sides especially volunteering at the gate. But all in all I definitely can’t complain. It is a truly beautiful park and staying at Bill Baggs for free has been just an incredible experience!
Biscayne Bay is the site of unique collection of stilt houses. Their colorful housing structures are perched on sand flats a mile offshore from Bill Baggs State Park called Stiltsville. You can see them from the park along the Bay side.
These structures are accessible only by boat. There were actually a total 27 structures in the 1960s.Unfortunately there are currently only seven stilt houses in total. The numbers have been whittled down through the years by fires, storms and hurricanes. Hurricane Betsy destroyed many of the structures in 1965 and by early 1992 there were only 14 left. Then came Hurricane Andrew, which destroyed 7 more.
The first stilt shack was built in the early 1930s, but some Dade County historians say that there were a dozen shacks in “the flats” as early as 1922.
Crawfish” Eddie Walker built a shack on stilts above the water in 1933, toward the end of the prohibition era for gambling, which was legal at one mile offshore. He sold bait and beer from his shack. Thomas Grady and Leo Edward, two of Eddie’s fishing buddies, built their own shack in 1937. Shipwrecking and channel dredging brought many people to the area and more shacks were constructed, some by boating and fishing clubs. Local newspapers called the area “the shacks” and “shack colony King Crawfish Eddie’s original shack was destroyed by the late-season Hurricane King of 1950. oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
The Calvert Club was the first social club built at Stiltsville constructed during the late 1930. It was said to be a major tourist attraction in Miami.
In 1940, Commodore Edward Turner built a large house on a barge and pilings near Crawfish Eddie’s and named it the Quarterdeck Club.
When it opened in November, membership cost $150 by invitation only and the club became one of the most popular spots in Miami. It was a Men’s Club, a kind of play-boy club, men showed up with women who weren’t their wives, and local newspapers began running stories and photographs of parties with celebrities. The club’s popularity grew after an article about the club appeared in Life magazine on February 10, 1941. Hurricane Donna in 1960 damaged most of the structures in Stiltsville, including the Quarterdeck Club, then the building was completely destroyed by a fire in 1961 that burned all the way to the pilings.
In the late 1950s, twelve workers from the Miami Springs Power Boat Club purchased a sunken barge for $1, re-floated it and towed it to Stiltsville, where they grounded it on a mudflat and built a structure and docks for use by their club. Hurricane Betsy did considerable damage to the barge in 1965, so club members invested in concrete pilings, which still remain in place. Thousands have visited the Springs House over the years, including Boy Scout troops and Optimist Clubs. Several television commercials have also been filmed there It was one of the seven remaining structures here.
In 1962, a businessman/scam artist named Harry Churchville grounded a 150-foot yacht named Jeff in the mudflats of Stiltsville and turned the boat into The Bikini Club. Alcoholic beverages were offered for sale, with free drinks to women wearing bikinis. There was a sun deck for nude sunbathing and staterooms could be rented for any purpose. The Bikini Club was raided by the Florida Beverage Commission in the summer of 1965, and closed down for selling liquor without a license. On September 8, 1965, Hurricane Betsy destroyed most of Stiltsville and severely damaged the boats upon which the Bikini Club was based. In 1966, what remained of the Bikini Club burned to the waterline
In it’s prime Stiltsville had many family homes. Where families got away from the city and come to a place that was magical. A place where you could fish and swim, the ultimate water front living. Especially being able to feel the ocean breeze coming in from all sides in the hot and muggy summer. This was a great place to be because it was before air conditioning.
The remaining 7 shacks in Stiltsville
When your at the Bayside of Bill Baggs by the seawall that is where you see Stiltsville, a mile away from the shore. We walk past it all the time and I still think about what used to be. All the stories I have read about, some good and some a little risky, it’s a very alluring place with much history. These houses were some of the most coveted places back in the 1960s & 1970s. The Stiltsville houses in Miami continue to be a major attraction for today’s visitors. The houses have been featured in films including Miami Vice, Bad Boys II, The Absence of Malice and novels by Carl Hiaasen and Les Stanford and others. “It’s like being on a boat without the rocking.” Since the mid-2000s, the structures have belonged to the National Park Service, the park at one time wanted the owners to destroy their homes thus the Stiltsville Trust, a nonprofit organization was created to care for and maintain each of the remaining seven buildings and uphold their legacies. From what I have recently read you can rent a shack overnight or for a party. Also if one of the buildings is 50% or more destroyed by fire, storms, etc. you cannot fix it. I know that a lot of people love and care about this place and it is something that they cherish as a big part of their past. Someone said that “at a whim Mother Nature can erase all of Stiltsville, and once it’s erased, it belongs to the Bay. “So we need to treasure it for as long as we can.”
Boating and now Kitesurfing are definitely a thing to do especially in Stiltsville where you can take a boat to one of the shacks and take off and kitesurf!
Kitesurfing, I’ve watched them from afar and see them sailing
on by and it looks so enthralling. I know I couldn’t do something
that daring, maybe when I was young? No way, who am I kidding!