Stiltsville is located approximately one mile off the South Miami shoreline and is home to seven stilt houses that remain today.
Several Hurricanes, including Hurricane Irma, have taken a toll on the original twenty-something structures that were built in the early 1930s in the shallow waters in the middle of Biscayne Bay.
Stiltsville - Biscayne National Park
The National Park Service now protects the collection of houses and its colorful past which includes the likes of Crawfish Eddie Walker who sold bait to fishermen and crawfish soup.
The area was also rumored to sell alcohol, host illegal gambling, and even prostitution amongst the small houses in this tiny village of pastel-colored stilt houses with the Quarterback Club being the most popular drawing in huge nightly crowds.
There were also private residences with famous names like John Nichols who spent his childhood years in his parent's stilt house.
Today the structures are mostly boarded up with only a few that still have part-time Stittsville residents.
Most of today's activity in this area comes in the form of tourism. Most people book boat tours sponsored by the Biscayne National Park Institute. Others paddle their sit-on-top kayak and spend a day paddling around checking out the structures and enjoying the fish and dolphins commonly seen in the bay.
Where to buy Stiltsville tickets/make reservations
Tours are available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Advanced reservations are advised but you can purchase on location. Cash is not accepted on-site.
- Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays: 10:00 AM-12:00 PM, 12:30 PM-2:30 PM, and 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
- Advance reservations are advised for this tour, no cash is accepted on-site.
- The tour departs from Dinner Key Marina. Their address is 3400 Pan American Drive Miami, Florida 33133
Park Ranger John Pro Tip
Boat tours from Dinner Key Marina are located in the upscale Coconut Grove neighborhood in South Miami. There are several sidewalk cafes, hotels, and shops that can easily draw you in! This neighborhood is a fun day to see and explore South Miami and to get out on the water.
History of Stiltsville
Stiltsville, situated in the northern boundaries of Biscayne National Park, is a collection of stilt houses on the sandbanks of Biscayne Bay. Stiltsville is a unique and fascinating piece of history. Although only seven shacks still exist today, there were once twenty-seven structures situated on the flats that bordered the Biscayne Channel.
The Beginning of Stiltsville
There is some debate amongst local historians as to when the first stilt house was constructed. Some claim the first houses appeared on the flats as early as 1922, while others believe the first house appeared in 1933.
The first shack on the sand flats was built by Eddie Walker, nicknamed “Crawfish Eddie". Eddie built his shack, out of which he sold bait, tackle, and food, officially that is. It is believed Eddie chose the flats because the gambling was legal one mile offshore, and it is rumored Eddie facilitated gambling out of his shack while selling beer and smuggling booze.
Eddie built his shack in 1933 as the United States was just emerging from Prohibition when alcohol was prohibited.
In addition to his alleged illegal activities, Crawfish Eddie caught crawfish from underneath his house. With the crawfish, Eddie made a chowder which he called chilau for which he became quite well-known in the area.
In 1937 the next two shacks were built on the flats. They were owned by two of Crawfish Eddie's friends, Leo Edward and Thomas Grady. Soon others came to the area and built shacks, leading to the community being referred to as a "shack colony" in the media of the time. In reality, these first structures were barges on which houses were built.
In the 1940s, as the popularity of the salt flats grew, high-ranking politicians, lawyers, and bankers built vacation homes on the flats. The other shacks were businesses, some of which had chosen the salt flats because they were out of the reach of law enforcement.
In the 1950s, the governor of Florida LeRoy Collins, often visited the flats, staying in the home of Jimmy Ellenburg. It still stands today and was built next to Crawfish Eddie's shack.
Stiltsville Social Clubs
In the late 1930s, a social club was built in the shack colony, called the Calvert Club. The club became a popular destination, with many fishing clubs from Miami organizing outings there. It wasn’t long before other enterprising people decided to open up businesses on the salt flats.
In the 1940s and 50s, Stiltsville became the place the wealthy wanted to party, either in the ‘get-away’ homes or at the social clubs.
The Quarterdeck Club
Commodore Edwin Turner constructed the second club on the flats in 1940. The club was called the Quarterdeck Club. When the club first opened you could visit the club by invitation only, and membership cost $150. The club soon became extremely popular and was featured in Life magazine in 1941.
The Quarterdeck Club became one of the most popular clubs in Miami and was described as a "play palace." It was not uncommon for celebrities to be photographed there. It was rumored that gambling took place at the club after World War II, but law enforcement was never able to prove it.
In 1950, Warren Freeman, a hotelman, bought the club from Turner. Freeman built the club and planned to make it even more luxurious and high-end.
Unfortunately, the Club was severely damaged by Hurricane King, the worst storm to hit Miami since the 1920s. Hurricane King not only damaged the Quarterdeck Club, but also destroyed Crawfish Eddie's original shack.
Freeman did not have the funds to rebuild, so he sold the club. The club was rebuilt and reopened but its heyday was over.
Another hurricane ripped through the salt flats of Biscayne Bay in 1960. Hurricane Donna damaged most of the houses in Stiltsville including the club. A year later the club burned down and was never rebuilt.
Miami Springs Power Boat Club
The Miami Springs Boat club was built on a mudflap in the late 1950s. The club was the idea of twelve members of the Miami Springs Power Boat Club who bought a sunken barge to use as the foundation for their club in the flats.
Due to the damage done to the club by Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the building was reinforced with concrete pilings and still stands today.
In 1961, Harry Churchville started the Bikini Club. The club was a 150-foot yacht called Jeff, that Churchville ran aground on the mudflats. The club sold illegal alcohol, offered free drinks to women in bikinis, and had a spot for topless sunbathing.
The club was damaged when Hurricane Betsy hit Stiltsville in 1965, but by then the club had already been shut down by the authorities for selling alcohol without a license. The club burnt down a year later.
What Happened to Stiltsville?
After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, only seventeen shacks remained. The state of Florida stepped in and imposed new regulations on the watery colony. Only those shacks that had less than 50% damage were allowed to rebuild and had to be placed onto concrete pilings. Eight new houses were built during this time.
In 1976 a phased withdrawal of the leases of the houses in Stiltsville was put forward. In 1985 the land on which the houses sat was transferred to the NPS, making the flats part of Biscayne National Park. The goal was to have all leases terminated by 1999. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew blew through Stiltsville, leaving only seven houses standing.
With their leases coming to an end, the owners of the remaining houses tried to make sure their homes would not be demolished. Eventually, a deal was struck in 2003 to save the houses and open them to the public for educational purposes.
Additional information about Biscayne National Park
Complete Guide to Biscayne National Park - Here you will find all the details you will need to know to plan your perfect trip to Biscayne National Park
Things to do Biscayne National Park - List of all the top features, attractions, and activities in Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park Lodging
There are no National Park Lodges in Biscayne National Park.
TownePlace Suites by Marriott Miami Homestead - A free breakfast buffet, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a gym are just a few of the amenities provided at TownePlace Suites by Marriott Miami Homestead. Free in-room Wi-Fi and a business center are available to all guests.
Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne - Take advantage of a terrace, shopping on site, and a garden at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami. With a beachfront location, beach cabanas, and sun loungers, this resort is the perfect place to soak up some sun. Free Wi-Fi in public areas is available to all guests, along with dry cleaning/laundry services and a bar.
Courtyard by Marriott Miami Homestead - At Courtyard by Marriott Miami Homestead, you can look forward to a grocery/convenience store, a coffee shop/café, and a library. The onsite restaurant, The Bistro, features light fare. In addition to dry cleaning/laundry services and a bar, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Quality Inn Miami South - free to-go breakfast, a rooftop terrace, and a coffee shop/café. Be sure to enjoy a meal at Dapple Bar and Kitchen, the onsite restaurant. In addition to a garden and dry cleaning/laundry services, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Miami Cutler Bay - free continental breakfast and laundry facilities. Guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
There are several hotels available in the town of Homestead, Florida just 10 miles away. Click on the map below to see additional lodging and vacation rental options.
Additional information on parks located Near Biscayne NP
Everglades National Park - Explore Florida's river of grass, an ecosystem unlike any other in the United States!
Dry Tortugas National Park - Located southwest of Key West and the Florida Keys, requires either a boat, a ride on the Yankee Freedom (boat tour), or hiring a private plane to see this incredible park in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico
Big Cypress National Preserve - Explore the freshwater Big Cypress Swamp, home to the endangered Florida Panther!
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park - a beautiful State Park located in the Upper Keys of South Florida that even has glass bottom boat tours!
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Florida - Great State Park is located in Key West Florida with beaches, a fort, and much more!
Bahia Honda State Park - a State Park in the South Florida Keys has great public access to the ocean with jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic Ocean!