The destination of Miami, Florida draws you in, with its color, its vibe and its metropolitan, urban pulse. One of the best ways to take in the irrepressibility of this cruise, convention, culture and commerce hub is to see Miami from the surrounding sparkling waters of Biscayne Bay. Views of Downtown Miami, Miami Beach, the cruise ships at the Port of Miami, homes of the rich and famous on Hibiscus, Palm and Star Islands and the artsy cool factor of Coconut Grove all flaunt their tropical flavor during a private yacht charter experience. Step aboard a yachting adventure by day, or be dazzled during an evening cruise that showcases Miami’s skyline lighting the night.
But in Miami, be ready to expect the unexpected. Just one mile south of Key Biscayne as your charter cruises past the Cape Florida Lighthouse, you’ll encounter a peaceful anomaly that eases up the throttle on this edgy, up-to-the-minute city — in honor of history. With Miami’s shore still in sight…welcome to the tiny historic community of Stiltsville.
You may not trust your eyes when you come upon houses – seven of them – sitting quietly alone on wooden and concrete pylons in the middle of the bay. One of the most popular attractions in Miami by boat, Stiltsville is truly an “I guess you had to be there to believe it” experience.
Seven colorful houses perched about ten feet above water level is one thing – but can you imagine 27? Originally, Stiltsville began in the 1930’s with “Crawfish” Eddie’s shack which he built to supply fishing boats with beer, bait and his famous crawfish chowder. Other houses joined the watery landscape from then until the 1960’s, from family vacation homes to other structures built as places to see and be seen, catering to the Miami elite.
Notable establishments including the Quarterdeck Club, the Calvert Club and the Bikini Club added many colorful stories of revelry, gambling and drinking to Miami’s heritage during the prohibition era. One notorious house party is reported to have hosted over 200 guests in a Stiltsville home, causing the structure to collapse during a rainstorm, dumping guests into Biscayne Bay, injuring several and making headlines.
The location of the Stiltsville homes, though idyllic in its retreat-like exclusivity, proved to render the unprotected homes defenseless against hurricane season, sun, salt and fires. Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 reduced Stiltsville to its current seven structures, while Hurricane Irma in 2017 further damaged docks, railings and roofs.
Remaining are the Jimmy Ellenberg House, the A-Frame House distinctive for its telephone pole frame, the Baldwin, Sessions & Shaw House, the Leshaw House, the Bay Chateau, the Hicks House and a house built by the Miami Springs Power Boat Club out of a barge. The Club still lovingly maintains its Stiltsville house.
In 1999, Stiltsville was in danger of demolition when the National Park Service issued a mandatory removal of all structures by the owners. After petitions were signed by 75,000 people, the Park Service reversed the decision and included Stiltsville as part of Biscayne National Park. Now part of the National Parks Service, Stiltsville is held dear in the hearts of so many who have fought for its preservation and by those who have had the pleasure of yachting to bask in the village’s historic magic. The former homeowners remain as leaseholders, and a non-profit organization called The Stiltsville Trust raises funds, preserves and rehabilitates the structures to help promote the marine environment and local history. The Trust also monitors and reviews requests for access by the public. However, at this time only one or two houses are safe to be used.
Rare gems. The unexpected. A piece of local history. Gather a group aboard a yacht, the only way to access this landmark view while you marvel at the stories, seven which remain, and 20 which are buried in the waves of marvelous Miami’s past.
Miami skyline at night – Kay_Cee on flickr – Some Rights Reserved
Stiltsville – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Jimmy Ellenburg House – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Stiltsville Miami – Wikimedia Creative Commons