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Stiltsville

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In Biscayne Bay, one mile south of the of Cape Florida, at the tip of Key Biscayne, lies a place where the houses seems to float above the water, as if in some surrealist dream. If you happen upon the place, rub your eyes if you want, but it's not your imagination. You have reached Stiltsville.

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Although the image is dreamlike, Stiltsville itself is a very real place. Although the buildings give the illusion of floating on the water, in reality they are anchored in the soft mud flats, or shoals, that comprise the ecosystem of southern Florida. Covered by grass, then one to three feet of water, these mud flats make it possible, if not entirely practical, for the houses to exist. Navigable by deeper channels that run around the shallow flats, these houses require a boat to access them.

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Stiltsville began in the 1930's when “Crawfish” Eddie Walker sold beer and bait from his shack in the area that would become Stiltsville. With the popularity of fishing in the area, as well as Eddie's famed crawfish chowder, others were soon persuaded to set up in shacks of their own. Ah, the ramshackle days when all you needed were some buddies, a boat, and some chowder to eat with them.

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As the area (and Eddie's chowder) started to become recognized for their uniqueness, Stiltsville became one of the more popular tourist attractions in the Miami area. Christened the Quarterdeck Club, the community grew to twelve houses and was even featured in an article in Life Magazine. The Quarterdeck Club was raided for gambling and eventually burned down by a jealous wife. At least when you're on the water, the fire has nowhere else to go.

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Destroyed by hurricanes in the 1950's, the area's next incarnation was as the Miami Springs Power Boat Club, a decidedly more blue collar affair. As the next hurricane inspired the club members to invest in concrete pilings, the club still stands to this day.

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The Power Boat Club was followed by the Bikini Club, a yacht owned by “Pierre” where a dollar bought you alcoholic drinks and the privilege of nude sunbathing. It's reign, too, was brought to an end by a series of hurricanes. (Building houses in the water in southern Florida does have its drawbacks, it seems.) 

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Battered by hurricanes and beset by rising shorefront property values, who's newest residents claim Stiltsville as a nuisance, the once thriving community has shrunk down to seven houses. Although the supporters have applied for it be declared a historic landmark, they were denied, as the seven remaining houses are less than fifty years old. This sparked the campaign S.O.S., or Save Old Stiltsville.

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A supporter of Stiltsville, Les Standiford, put it best, in his letter imploring the community to keep from tearing it down: “No one who chances upon the phenomenon of Stiltsville for the first time will ever forget the sight of homes that hover above the waters, miles from any shore, like structures from a dream.” MR

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