scent of the silver-
and-pink-clawed possum in heat — all rhubarb-breath and unbelievable
udder — is as sharp as fuchsia
spokes of my oleander. I could put
my eye out looking.”—Anna Journey
Just over a mile due south of Key Biscayne is a collection of houses that is known as Stiltsville. Stiltsville is a good name for small houses that are literally built on stilts in very shallow water in Biscayne National Park, that is located in between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Before hurricane Andrew in 1993, there were over 20 structures that dotted the seascape. With sustained winds in excess of 190 mph., and much higher gusts of wind, many of the structures simply did not stand a chance against the power of nature. Although many of the structures have been through a dozen hurricanes over the years, it became one of our finer laws that the owners of the properties (or the leases) could not make any repairs to the structures, so, they would simply fall into disrepair. Some of the structures are in fantastic shape and make a wonderful place to gather with friends and family to enjoy nature from an entirely different perspective. The laws that have allowed Stiltsville to become such as mess instead of being treated as the National treasure that it is. There is no other place on the face of the earth like stiltsville. There is a grassroots movement to save Stiltsville that has taken some traction and hopefully we will be able to pass this treasure and this history on to our children.
Originally Stiltsville was built or imagined during the days of prohibition and Al Capone and rampant gambling.The law was that gambling was allowed provided that it was located a mile offshore. Stiltsville is located just over a mile offshore. Many structures were built, in fact, a very large boat was purposefully run aground at high tide at full speed and then more permanently secured to the ocean floor during low tide when the ground was no longer under the water but was now exposed and above the water level. It was a fine and exquisite gambling establishment and clients were ferried to stiltsville. The law was soon changed to 3 miles offshore. The gambling boats located at Bayside in Miami will be very happy to take you 3 miles offshore so that you can gamble legally. During the 1980’s when Miami was in the Miami Vice days, the stiltsville area was used for seaplane dropoffs of contraband where speedboats would take off with the cargo. Film shoots have been shot there and plenty of wild parties and photo shoots for minimal clothing magazines have featured the houses of stiltsville. Today, the houses sit. They provide protection out of the summer sun or cover during a torrential downpour for smaller vessels.
As previously mentioned, the group of structures known as stiltsville are built in the shallow waters of Biscayne National Park yet what makes the ‘address’ of each structure unique is that it is built with over half of the structure in foot deep water and the other portions built in waters that are between 6 - 20 feet deep. With this technique incorporated into the design, it is possible to dock your boat right under the structure without running aground. The waters run from Biscayne Bay to the Atlantic Ocean and back from the Atlantic Ocean to Biscayne Bay as the tide changes twice a day. There are well developed channels called “finger channels” and explain how the water can be 1 foot deep and 4 feet away 15 feet deep. The “finger channels” are named since when viewed from the air, the channels resemble the fingers of the hand. Going to stiltsville can be accomplished by boat or seaplane and is well worth the visit. In fact, many of the “flats” fishing charters will fish the “flats” of stiltsville for bonefish with stiltsville clearly in sight. In the event that time does not permit and you only have time for a quick look, you can drive to the Bill Baggs State Recreation Park (where the Cape Florida lighthouse is located) and look to the south (The lighthouse is located on the Southeast side of the Island of Key Biscayne), and you will see stiltsville.
“My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent
and he carries me quietly, like a gondola, through the streets.
He has several likenesses, like stars and years, like numerals.”—In Memory of My Feelings by Frank O’Hara