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Stilt Houses in the Gulf of Mexico: Historic Fishing Lodges

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Florida Vacations

We take Florida vacations at least a couple of times a year, and we've seen some pretty amazing sights. One of the most fascinating sights we saw on our recent vacation to Port Richey, Florida, was a stilt house. In fact, we floated right past several of the unique structures on our flats fishing trips. It was a surreal experience to view houses out in the Gulf of Mexico, but there they were. It was no mirage. Since this was our first trip to the Port Richey area, the stilt houses were incredibly eye-catching and unusual to me. On our fishing trips for fishing the flats, we saw several of these old fishing lodges. All looked abandoned, with birds as their only tenants. Cormorants used a few of the houses for perches to search the water for a meal. Of course, I just had to learn more about these rustic vacation houses, so I began talking with Port Richey locals.

History: From Fishing Lodges to Fishing Vacations for Celebrities

All the stilt houses are located just off the coast of Pasco County, Florida. Originally, over twenty of these structures were built. No one knows for sure when the first stilt house was constructed, but most locals agree it was some time around the beginning of the twentieth century. There’s even a debate about who built the first of the stilt houses.

Supposedly, the first stilt houses were built as fishing lodges or fishing camps. Before gas or diesel-powered boats were commonplace, boats were poled out to the flats for fishing – especially for mullet fishing. Huge schools of mullet would run through the flats periodically, and many local fishermen depended on flats fishing for their income. The fishing lodges provided a place for the fishermen to rest and eat before poling their catch back to the mainland.

The original owners of the structures didn’t buy the “land” from anyone – it was more of a squatter’s rights deal. They scoped out a likely spot and proceeded to build a house on stilts. This process was difficult, to say the least. All the lumber had to be floated out to the site, and pilings had to be sunk into the ground beneath the gulf waters to support the houses.

The houses were often used for fishing trips by the owners, most of who lived fairly nearby on the Florida mainland. Flats fishing in the area was very good for mullet, trout, flounder, reds, sharks, snook, and cobia. Tarpon fishing was and still is superb. Decades ago, local anglers on gulf fishing trips would often seek refuge in any vacant stilt house when a storm approached or when they needed a place to rest. The stilt house owners didn’t mind, and to return the favor, the fisherman would often give part of their catch to the house owners.

The stilt houses were also used as vacation houses, especially for fishing vacations. Although such vacations and fishing trips were largely without modern conveniences, the beautiful scenery and the array of water activities made up for the lack of fresh water, air conditioning, television, and telephones.

As vacation houses, the wooden structures placed their owners in the midst of perfect locations for flats fishing, swimming, crabbing, boating, and water skiing. The water around the houses is crystal clear, and at high tide, it’s about ten feet deep. At low tide, the water is only a couple of feet deep around most of the stilt houses. Before heading out on fishing trips to this part of the gulf, make sure you know how much draft your boat requires before fishing the flats.

The stilt houses were so unique and in such a specialized location for flats fishing, they’ve been frequented by some famous people. Johnny and June Carter Cash visited often whenever they wanted to enjoy some fishing on the Florida flats. Reverend Billy Graham also spent a couple of fishing vacations in a stilt house.

In October of 1968, most of the stilt houses were completely destroyed by Hurricane Gladys. The Florida legislature didn’t want the stilt houses rebuilt, but when the owners put up a spirited fight, they were “grandfathered in.” Owners of the stilt houses were allowed to rebuild on the original sites, but they had to lease the land supporting their fishing lodges. These leases were scheduled to expire in 1999.

The owners of the stilt houses were devastated to think that their vacation houses and fishing lodges that had been in their family for generations would be destroyed, so they petitioned for an extension. The extension was granted. Now the stilt houses are safe until 2019. No one knows what will happen to these historic structures after that.

Stilt Houses Today

Today, there are nine stilt houses left. Both locals and tourists appreciate the unique houses, not just for their fascinating heritage, but also for the fish they attract. Each time we went to the area for flats fishing, several boats surrounded the stilt houses, casting lines underneath the docks and around the wooden pilings. They provide structure for flats fishing, which attracts and holds fish.

Fresh water still has to be hauled to the stilt fishing lodges and vacation houses. Most of the structures now have pumps, however, for salt water, which is sometimes used for washing dishes. Electricity is provided by generators, and propane tanks provide cooking and heat. The stilt houses use chemical toilets in the bathrooms.

While flats fishing, we fished around the stilt houses.

While flats fishing, we fished around the stilt houses.

See the Stilt Houses

If you’re ever near Port Richey, take a boat out for some great flats fishing. Fishing the Florida flats, or even taking a pleasure cruise around the area, is a great way to spend a day or an afternoon.

The stilt houses are located in a line off Port Richey. If you’re heading out of Port Richey on the Cotee River, you’ll see the old wooden fishing lodges as you enter the gulf. If you’re new to this area, don’t let the water fool you – it’s much deeper than it appears. Even so, it does get shallow around the houses at low tide.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you know if stilt houses can be rented?

Answer: We searched but could not find one for rent. I think it would make for such a great vacay!

Comments

Diana Vares on March 15, 2020:

Does anyone know how to Rent one of the stilt houses for the weekend to camp

John J D on February 09, 2019:

Thank you for explaining the history of the houses and busting the "drug dealer houses confiscated by the government" myth.

Kim on July 30, 2015:

Where can you rent a stilt house for the weekend???

hogbuster on December 03, 2013:

My email is hogbuster12@gmail.com

hogbuster on December 03, 2013:

Our house is #1 the all the way to the north

Catherine Shiver on March 06, 2013:

Hi, I don't know if these are available as rentals. Around here, the only ones I can think of to ask is the West Pasco Historical Society, notably Jeff Miller who curates most of the website and historic photos. There are two sites, fivay.org, and westpascohistoricalsociety.org. Mr. Miller's email link is at the bottom of the fivay.org home page. There is more about these stilt homes and their history available here: http://fivay.org/stilt_houses.html The Historic Society is open Fridays and Saturdays between 1-4pm, and their phone number is (727) 847-0680. They may be able to point you in the right direction.

drewmgd73 on March 05, 2013:

Hello lakeee im looking to rent a stilt house for my wife for her surprise birthday in april can anyone help me put. My email is drewmgd73@yahoo.com

frogyfish on October 18, 2012:

Those houses sound great til the storms come, but that clear water sounds wonderful! Didn't know there were stilt houses in the ocean...just in the boondocks! (Where I used to live.) :-)

marekh1 on October 15, 2012:

hello everyone, i am looking for info on renting one of these stilt houses in bay area, im not sure if its tarpon or port richey but just need info on who i can contact to get some info on rentals. thank you

lakeee on April 30, 2012:

the red white and blue one is mine, camp 6

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on April 22, 2012:

Sure would be a wonderful vacation spot, in the right kind of weather. Can't imagine being so surrounded by water and sky - it must be beautiful!

Catherine Shiver on April 14, 2012:

I love that you took the time to tell the story of these little known treasures. I live in New Port Richey and I remember how surprised and amazed I was the first time I saw these houses out in the Gulf. It took nearly a year before I met someone who could tell me their history. One of my daughter's teachers grew up here, and he knows a family that owns one of them. He told us about how Johnny Cash loved going out there when he was in town (his in-laws owned a house here in New Port Richey), since he could really get away from everything. I'm glad to see the leases have been extended, I hope they will somehow be preserved rather than destroyed. I read your other article about Durney Key, too. The islands are awesome. If you're looking for another adventure, there is a chain of small islands just off Dunedin, which are popular for weekend camping. Just like Durney Key, there's nothing but what you bring, and some have little sandy beaches. We've camped there a few times, and the kids love it. We usually go with a group of other families for more fun. It's too hot between April and October, though.

jrallenjr from Cape Coral, Florida on January 01, 2012:

There is also a number of stilthouses in Lee County. They are located in Bull Bay, just minutes by boat from the famous Boca Grande Pass. These particular houses have a grandfather clause that will allow them to remain until 2019. However these houses are very rich in heritage and should therefore be allowed to be preserved for everyone to see. A little white paint could go a long way. I have witnessed that the houses in Bull Bay are currently being used for getaways. And I would love to be able to get off my boat and see one of these little gems. James R. Allen

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 26, 2010:

Cool! I'll check it out, Elite!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 04, 2010:

I'd love to spend a week or two in one!

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on September 25, 2010:

habee, This is a cool hub. I had no idea they were still around. I think I could stay in a stilt house and fish.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on September 24, 2010:

Gailee, sounds like a book I'd really enjoy. Thanks!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on September 24, 2010:

I'd love it, too, Nancy! Not sure I'd want to be in one of the old fishing lodges in a bad strm, though.

gailee on September 12, 2010:

I just finished reading a new book called "Stiltsville" by Susanna Daniel. It takes place in Miami, with many scenes centered around a stilt house in Biscayne Bay nearby. You can learn about life in a stilt house as well as enjoy an interesting story with well-developed characters and plotline.

nancy_30 from Georgia on September 09, 2010:

Very interesting hub. I wouldn't mind staying in one as long as it isn't storming.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 13, 2010:

Me, too, Bk! I'd spend all my time flats fishing!

BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on August 12, 2010:

I would love to spend some time living in one of these. And imagine having the ability to build one of these - I'd love to see it going up. Great information and photos. Thanks so much!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 10, 2010:

Kitchen, I'd love to try it for a couple of weeks!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 10, 2010:

HP, thanks for visiting!

kitchenaid101 on August 08, 2010:

I used to winter in New Port Richey, Florida. I think I would want to have a lot of safety floating devices handy if I lived like that lol.

H P Roychoudhury from Guwahati, India on August 08, 2010:

A great hub for the fascinating story behind the formation of Stilt houses at Port Richey of Florida.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Garnet, at least you had a year! lol

Garnetbird on August 07, 2010:

Nice--it makes me miss Florida. I only lived there one yr. and didn't get to visit as much as I would have liked.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Moe, the flats fishing is good, but I think it will get better when the weather gets a little cooler!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Thanks for reading, Lyria!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Thanks a heap, Teddle!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Glad you enjoyed it, Chris!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Thanks, Michael!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Buckie, I'd love to rent one of these for a little flats fishing!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Yes, Don, and I'd like to see a lot more of them before I kick the bucket!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 06, 2010:

Drbj, I didn't know about the old Miami fishing lodges on stilts! Cool!

moe on August 05, 2010:

Fascinating! How is the flats fishing there?

Lyria on August 03, 2010:

Great hub habee! I loved learning all the background info about these houses>

Mike Teddleton from Midwest USA on August 03, 2010:

Gulf stilt houses, I had forgotten all about these beautiful structures. Great pics, and the history lesson is great habee. thanks for another great hub. hub up and useful...

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on August 03, 2010:

That's one of those largely unknown remnants of old Florida... very cool hub, Habee!!!

Michael E. Horton on August 02, 2010:

Great hub page.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on August 02, 2010:

I think that would make me nervous - living on stilts - or I'd have to assume a 'stilted' attitude. Great pics and how interesting that folks can perch up like that. Again, I don't think I could do it!

Don Simkovich from Pasadena, CA on August 02, 2010:

This shows how there are many amazing and wonderful cultures in the U.S. Neat Hub.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 02, 2010:

Hi, habee. Stiltsville in Miami is a group of seven houses perched on stilts in the middle of Biscayne Bay. These seven ramshackle stilt houses are all that remain of a much larger community of fishing cabins - all built on stilts.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 02, 2010:

Thanks, Kaie! I'd LOVE to rent one!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 02, 2010:

Pam, I agree. I'd love to spend a few days there, flats fishing!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 02, 2010:

eileen, the houses have stood for decades, and it took a major hurricane to destry them!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 02, 2010:

Bpop, I think it would be heavenly! I'd get my fill of tarpon fishing and trout fishing!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 02, 2010:

That's neat about the German stilt houses. You should write a hub about them!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 02, 2010:

Sheila, I think I'd love to stay in one in the spring - when it wasn't too hot and when there were no hurricanes!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 02, 2010:

Exactly, CV! I don't get it???

Kaie Arwen on August 02, 2010:

These are fantastic; I didn't know anything about these types of vacation homes; love them! Thanks for this! Kaie

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 02, 2010:

You did a great job of giving us some history and what it would take to stay in one of the houses. That would be really nice for a short period of time, except of course in hurricane season. Great hub.

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on August 02, 2010:

Habee how would they go in a storm is what I cant help thinking. Or is that part of the world have a better climate with less storms.

Great hub and beaut pics.

breakfastpop on August 02, 2010:

Terrific hub, habee. There are days when I would love to love on the water in the middle of nowhere.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 02, 2010:

This is a wonderful hub about unusual buildings such as stilt houses. In Germany they are also stilt houses in the lake Constanze which were built by ancient people as far as I remember. Thank you again for this enjoyable information.

sheila b. on August 01, 2010:

I was curious about stilt houses after you mentioned them in your last hub, so I was glad to see this one about them. Can't figure out whether I'd like to vacation in one or not.

Cristina Vanthul from Florida on August 01, 2010:

Yes, as well as corals, fans, starfish, clams, oysters. If stilt houses are destructive to the ecosystems, you would think the concrete, old ships and airplanes that are intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs would be destructive as well! I live not too far from Port Richey but usually take the boat out further south. We'll have to take a trip up there one weekend. These are much better condition than the ones in Miami.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 01, 2010:

Awww, thanks, Steph!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 01, 2010:

Thanks, CV! I had no idea there were stilt houses in Miami! I think these structures provide great havens for fish. Barnacles grow on the pilings, feeding the fish. They also provide resting places for birds.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on August 01, 2010:

Nice work, as always Habee! Your personal perspective and photos make this hub a one-of-a-kind! Cheers, Steph

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 01, 2010:

Thanks for reading, Masmasika! The water there is very calm, except during a hurricane.

Cristina Vanthul from Florida on August 01, 2010:

Love your hub, Habee! There are stilt houses in Miami also, though I believe there are only 3 or 4 left. The ones down there were built in the 1920s during Prohibition. Rumor says that celebrities and gangsters held grand parties out there where the authorities had no say in what happened. Those homes were grandfathered in as well, but with a different stipulation - no remodeling or rebuilding. As a result, most of the original 13 or 15 are completely gone. It's awful to see such a unique part of history disappear, but the ultimate decision was that the structures harmed the undersea environment more than it helped. I have to disagree with that. Like you said in your hub, these structures become fish havens as well as havens for many other kinds of sea creatures.

masmasika on August 01, 2010:

Great post. I wonder how they built that and thinking that it is in water, will it ever stand there forever without the angry waters washing it away? wish I could see such beautiful creation. Thanks for sharing an interesting hub.