Ever look out to sea from Bill Baggs State Park and wonder about those colorful houses in the water? They’re known as Stiltsville, a “village” with a rowdy past. This current tourist attraction has a long history of seedy behavior.
A Big Party on the Water
Stiltsville’s origin begins with “Crawfish” Eddie Walker, who built the first house in the early 1930’s. Officially he sold his renowned crawfish chowder and fishing bait, but unofficially he also provided beer and gambling. The location was not as random as it appears – gambling became legal a mile away from land.
Soon he was joined by other seafaring entrepreneurs. Commodore Edwin Turner established the exclusive Quarterdeck Club in 1940, which turned into a gambling club after World War II. Crawfish Eddie’s house was destroyed by a hurricane in 1950 and the Quarterdeck Club never recovered from a fire in 1961.
Hurricane Donna ripped into twenty houses in 1960, but the debauchery persisted. Harry Churchville turned a grounded yacht into the Bikini Club, one of the more famous Stiltsville businesses. Women wearing bikinis could get free drinks and people sunbathed nude on the deck. The State Beverage Department shut it down in 1965.
Not all activity bordered on illegal. Blue collar men created The Miami Springs Powerboat Club in the late 1950’s. Hurricane Betsy caused significant damage in 1965, but Stiltsville gained a radio tower in 1967.
From Scoundrels’ Retreat to Tourist Attraction
Stiltsville finally felt some heat from the government when, in 1983, the National Park Service declared that all houses will be demolished after 1999.
However, when the time came, removing them became a controversial issue in the community. In June 2000, the Stiltsville houses were added to Biscayne National Park. Owners and public representatives formed the Stiltsville Trust in 2003 to maintain the legendary houses.
Stiltsville gained some notoriety over the years, providing the setting for books, movies, and an episode of “Miami Vice.” Nowadays it’s an alluring photo opportunity for anyone with a boat, kayak, or anything that floats. You can even sign up for a tour given by HistoryMiami.
Credit photo & source : stiltsvilletrust.org