Perched at the edge of sea grass flats where the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay meet the dark and choppy Atlantic Ocean, the cluster of wooden shacks has no protection from killer storms. But when Irma’s clouds cleared in early September, Stiltsville emerged relatively intact, to the relief of the volunteers dedicated to maintaining this quirky slice of paradise.
As the Biscayne National Park Service tweeted on September 19th, “All 7 Stiltsville houses are standing strong.” The accompanying photo appeared to show roof damage to the Bay Chateau house, and further reports noted some railing and dock damage. But overall the seven houses survived yet another hurricane.
Now that news is spreading nationally with yesterday’s Associated Press article and photos:
The Stiltsville community is almost as old as the city of Miami. The first shacks rose in the 1930s after a Miami pioneer nicknamed “Crawfish Eddie” started selling bait from a vessel stranded in the flats.
In its heyday, Stiltsville grew to about 30 shacks and social clubs, but that number dwindled to seven through nearly a century of hurricanes and legal challenges.
Stiltsville Oct. 21, 2017 (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
In Stiltsville’s 90 year history, most of the lost houses were destroyed by hurricanes, including Crawfish Eddie’s original shack in 1950. Hurricane Donna took 20 in 1960 (8 were rebuilt) and 1965’s Hurricane Betsy irreparably damaged a dozen more in 1965. Hurricane Andrew demolished another seven in 1992, leaving us with the seven remaining buildings. Under current law, any structure damaged more than 50% cannot be rebuilt, and no new structures can be built.
At first, Stiltsville developed much like Miami had on dry land, with little formal planning or oversight. Hurricanes, law enforcement raids, fires and state regulations eventually curtailed construction. By the 1960s, the state began requiring the private owners pay for “campsite” leases.
Stiltsville became part of Biscayne National Park in 1980, which stirred a lengthy debate about their future. Congress was called upon to intervene before the park and the lease holders reached a deal that preserved the structures and opened them to the public. Some former Stiltsville owners remain as volunteer caretakers today.
All seven structures should be available again for daytime rentals early next year, said Kevin Mase, chairman of the Stiltsville Trust, which partners with the National Park Service to maintain Stiltsville.
This unique place now helps make visitors aware of environmental conditions in a park that is 95 percent water, said Carissa DeCramer, the park’s chief of staff.
“These are artificial structures in a natural environment, but these are iconic,” DeCramer said.
The Stiltsville Trust, a non-profit 501C3, is charged with “the preservation, oversight and to facilitate public access for the seven remaining Stiltsville structures located in Biscayne National Park.”
“Eventually a storm is going to take Stiltsville away,” Louis Chiavacci, caretaker of structure known as Hicks House, said. “Mother Nature is pretty brutal when she wants to be. A few hours of directional change in Irma heading this way sooner would have made a big difference for our entire community, including the exposed houses of Stiltsville.”
If you would like to see these iconic houses before they are all gone, I highly recommend taking one of Dr. Paul George’s HistoryMiami tours. The next available tour is on December 30: