Last week, the land-use group had their summer event, a boat tour of Biscayne Bay and Stiltsville with History Miami’s resident historian, Dr. Paul George. We all met up at the marina at Bayside, hopped on a boat, and off we went. As soon as we pulled out of the marina, Dr. George began discussing the long and fascinating history of downtown Miami, beginning with Bayfront park. For example, did you know that President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech at Bayfront shortly after he was elected, and at that speech, someone in the crowd fired five shots towards the stands? Luckily the president was uninjured, but the Mayor of Chicago, who was in attendance, was mortally wounded. As we sailed south into the mouth of the Miami River in Brickell, Dr. George discussed the history of development in Miami, pointing out many of the shiny buildings and upcoming developments in the Brickell area. What was very entertaining was the fact that Bilzin land use attorneys were involved in almost every building or development pointed out by Dr. George. As we circled back from the mouth of the river, Dr. George pointed out one of, if not the oldest, archeological site in south Florida, the Miami Circle. It was the first evidence of prehistorical human presence in the Miami area; it has been dated to about 2,000 years ago! Hopefully, at least that part of the Brickell area will remain undeveloped.
Next we sailed south along the coast as Dr. George explained the history of Virginia Key and Key Biscayne. Interestingly the two areas were originally a coconut plantation, but when industrialist named William J. Matheson bought the land, he began developing it for residential living. In fact, much of the land in the north and south end of the Key was donated by the Matheson family to create what is now Crandon and Bill Baggs Park. An interesting tidbit was that fact that during the Nixon administration, the president had a home in Key Biscayne where he spent much of his time. So much so, that is was unofficially called the Winter White House. Finally as we passed the southern tip of Bill Baggs Park, we could see Stiltsville. The first structure out in the Biscayne Bay was built in the early 1930’s and over time a small community of stilted structures appeared, forming a bohemian community of sorts. There were 27 bars, casinos, and even residences at its peak, but after many years, and many hurricanes, only 6 structures remain. The area is now managed by the Stiltsville trust, and you can even book a stay in one of the structures for a fee; seems like a good idea for the next summer event!