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!