Abandoned Florida: 10 Ghost Towns and Forgotten Places in the Sunshine State

abandoned-florida-dome-homes-cape-romano-3 (Image: Jason Molinet; abandoned Florida: derelict dome homes at Cape Romano)

Florida might be best known for its sun, sand and snowbirds, but there’s a wealth of history hidden away in this semi-tropical paradise, too. From abandoned mansions rumoured to be the haunts of mafia dons to 19th century forts, the abandoned architecture of the Sunshine State reveals some fascinating stories about the region’s history.

Abandoned Stiltsville, Miami-Dade

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abandoned-florida-stiltsville-3 (Image: Justdweezil; Ines Hegedus-Garcia; pwbaker; Florida’s abandoned Stiltsville)

Prohibition was in full swing when “Crawfish” Eddie Walker decided it was time he and his people had somewhere to party without fear of the law. Since there wasn’t much that they could do about Prohibition in the moment, they decided to take the party elsewhere.

That ‘elsewhere’ was Stiltsville, a series of now-abandoned buildings about a mile off the Florida coast, accessible only by boat. So says the popular legend, at least, while other stories are more contradictory. Some say there were already about a dozen building in the strange floating town before Walker moved his party there, but whatever the original version, the motivation was clear. Stiltsville is technically outside United States jurisdiction, which meant they were pretty much free to do as they please – giving rise to another story, which suggested it wasn’t just a haven for party-goers, but for pirates as well.

In the 1940s Stiltsville was the site of an upscale gentleman’s club, but by the 1960s hurricane damage took its toll on the floating city. Hurricane Donna destroyed about 20 buildings, with others collapsing into the sea a few years later. That all helped put the focus on the less-than-reputable activities that were going on there, and the Florida courts eventually ordered the leases be allowed to expire. It’s been left to the Stiltsville Trust to try to preserve the abandoned Florida ghost town – something of an uphill battle.

Kerr City, an Abandoned Florida Ghost Town

abandoned-florida-kerr-city-ghost-town

abandoned-florida-kerr-city-ghost-town-2 (Images: Ebyabe (top, bottom); Kerr City ghost town’s abandoned Post Office)

Kerr City was officially founded in 1884, and freezing, crop-destroying weather in 1894 and 1895 dealt a blow to the young city that was too much to recover from. The village, sitting in the Ocala National Forest and on the shores of Lake Kerr, was all but abandoned.

In 2013, one man still remained: Art Brennan, the great-grandson of Kerr City’s founder, Alfred Smiley. Brennan remained where others had left, keeping a watchful eye over the turn-of-the-century buildings. The house he and his wife kept their residence in was one of the ghost town’s original homes, and others – like the post office – also dated back to the community’s optimistic heyday. Brennan has made it his job to not only keep tabs on the old ghost town, but to preserve its stories, too.

An early postal worker – a red-haired woman named Sarah – is rumoured to still haunt the post office. The town wasn’t without its drama, either, being the one-time home to a preacher who lived in a local hotel with part of his congregation. When the group woke one morning in 1907 to find the preacher – and their money – gone, they burned the hotel to the ground to rid it of the evil.

Brennan’s longtime devotion makes Kerr City one of the best-preserved abandoned Florida ghost towns in the country. He’s perfectly fine with the “ghost town” label too.

Abandoned Dome Homes, Cape Romano

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abandoned-florida-dome-homes-cape-romano-2 (Images: Jason Molinet (top, bottom), website: jasonmolinet.com)

These strange-looking dome homes first popped up on a Cape Romano beachfront property in the 1980s and were the subject of all sorts of local gossip. Was the unusual domed complex the headquarters of a secret cult? Were they of an extraterrestrial origin? Did they contain a secret guarded by a private, armed militia?

Far from it. The solar-powered, self-sustaining home was built by retired oil producer Bob Lee, who filled his retirement years with all sorts of building projects. The Dome Home was a vacation home for his family, and even a full-time home for his grandson until the area was ravaged by Hurricane Andrew. Successive hurricanes did more and more damage, and many local residents packed up to leave rather than rebuild. After Hurricane Wilma, efforts were made to save the home from the encroaching sea, but permissions to build a sea wall were denied.

Current owners never demolished the structures as they were ordered, and today, the abandoned Florida dome house is little more than a shell of the state-of-the-art vacation home it once was.

Florida’s Abandoned UFO House, Homestead

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abandoned-ufo-house-homestead-florida-7 (Images: abandonedfl.com; Florida’s mysterious UFO House)

After a few decades of swirling rumours and epic conspiracy theories, Homestead’s abandoned UFO House was dealt a death blow by Hurricane Andrew and its following condemnation order. It was finally torn down in August of 2013, bringing an end to what had been a score of stories.

WebUrbanist traces the development of the legend and lore surrounding the abandoned UFO House, starting with its 1974 construction at an isolated location in Homestead. At the time, Homestead had about 15,000 residents, and even by the time it blossomed to a 60,000-person city, no one had built next to the UFO House. The most often told story was that the owner was involved in drug trafficking, and the exotic animals he claimed to import were all a front. The animals were kept in cages with the drugs beneath, it was said, and locals tell stories of being chased away from the property by mysterious men.

At some point, an absentee owner bought the abandoned Florida property and painted it, presumably not long before 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. After that, it became a haven for urban explorers rather than exotic animals and armed guards, but the mysterious history of the abandoned UFO House has persisted.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

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abandoned-florida-fort-jefferson-dry-tortugas-national-park-3 (Image: USNPS; Marque1313; Direnzoa; abandoned Florida’s Fort Jefferson, a national park)

Fort Jefferson was part of a series of fortifications built after the War of 1812 to help defend America’s coastlines. From here, ships paroled throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the entrance to the Mississippi River, and all along the Florida coast. In addition to its defensive position, it was also an invaluable port for nearby ships during the area’s hurricanes and tropical storms.

Once home to more than 1,700 soldiers (and more than a few families), the fort also supported all the personnel needed to keep the post up and running. During the Civil War, it became a prison – and there were so many prisoners there that the labour provided by slaves and other workers was no longer needed. Among Fort Jefferson’s most famous prisoners was Dr. Samuel Mudd, held for his involvement in President Lincoln’s assassination.

By the end of the Civil War, the facility was more prison than fortress and in 1888, it was decided that the cost of maintenance no longer made it a viable option as a defensive fortification. After a few years as a quarantine station, the fort was abandoned and was later designated as a bird refuge in 1908. It’s now part of a national park and guided tours are offered to visitors.

Abandoned Hampton Springs Hotel, Taylor County

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abandoned-florida-hampton-springs-hotel-4 (Images: 1, 2, 3, 4: Ebyabe; remains of the destroyed Hampton Springs Hotel)

In the early 20th century, Hampton Springs Hotel was one of those places frequented by people of importance. Built in 1908, the hotel became famous for its sulphur springs. Reputed to have healing properties, the springs and baths were the centerpiece for a luxury hotel that had everything from elaborate gardens to pools, stables, outdoor pavilions, a dance floor, tennis courts, a casino, and the area’s first ever nine-hole golf course.

Because the hotel’s owners knew never to put your eggs in one basket, they also had a factory that bottled the supposedly healing waters and shipped it to other parts of the country. Mineral waters such as those found here were purported to provide relief from a whole host of ailments, from pneumonia, indigestion, scurvy, gout and low (and high) blood pressure to skin conditions of all kinds and even alcoholism.

The popularity of the Hampton Springs Hotel was to be short-lived, though. The abandoned Florida resort was completely destroyed by fire in 1954, and all that was left were the foundations, built around the springs. Taylor County has been working on revitalizing the historic property with an eye for re-opening it as a public park.

Perky Ghost Town, Monroe County

perky-abandoned-florida-ghost-town (Image: Ebyabe; historic bat tower near Perky, an abandoned Florida ghost town)

In the 1920s, R.C. Perky made an unlikely investment in a bankrupt sponge farm on Sugarloaf Key. When that didn’t turn a profit, he wanted to build a resort town and fishing village on the land, but there was one thing that had to be dealt with first: the mosquitoes, blood-sucking pests that would cover anything (and anyone) in sight. It was so bad that his resort idea was looming on the brink of a mosquito-borne failure, so he decided to try a little eco-control.

Perky’s attempt is one of the main attractions still standing in the optimistically-named, eponymous ghost town. The Sugarloaf Key Bat Tower (above) was built based on Texan prototypes, and while he waited for his colony of bats to come, Perky went on to build the rest of the town. He built cottages and bungalows, and even a Post Office, giving the little town his own last name.

Unfortunately, the bats never came to save the day and the venture went belly-up. Perky himself went bankrupt after only a few years, and had never recovered his fortune by the time he died in 1940. The Sunshine State’s notorious hurricanes began passing through, and while they’ve destroyed much of the abandoned Florida ghost town, the historic bat tower still stands. There may never have been any bats, but a preservation effort in 1981 found that it was home to something else: bees.

The Rumoured Mafia Mansion, Davie

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abandoned-florida-mafia-mansion-2 (Images: Brett Levin; Florida’s abandoned ‘Mafia Mansion’)

Little is officially known about the so-called Mafia Mansion that once sat in Davie, and what information is out there is shrouded in urban legend. According to a popular story, the mansion was owned by a mysterious Colombian drug lord throughout the 1980s. When the family’s reign came to an end in an FBI raid in 1987, it was supposedly seized before lapsing into its abandoned state.

According to AbandonedFL, research doesn’t quite pan out in support of the theory that it was one of the many properties of none other than Pablo Escobar. But though that may be little more than a fanciful story, it’s easy to see why people would believe it. The sprawling abandoned mansion, with its elegant white columns and almost otherworldly feel, sits on acres of property. Other rumours have it as the home of a nameless arms trafficker, which may be more in line with the truth.

In 2002, the property was seized by the government, as it was claimed that it’d been bought with money made from drug trafficking. The accused died before the investigation was complete, and the property went first to his wife then to a construction group. There was a literal sea of controversy surrounding shady documentation and statements, and as the abandoned house became caught up in the courts, it continued to deteriorate. Since these photos were taken, the abandoned Florida ‘Mafia mansion’ has been torn down.

Abandoned RV Arctic Discoverer

abandoned-florida-ships (Image: Allen Forrest – website: allenforrest.com)

The ship started life as the A.T. Cameron in 1958, when she was first put into service as a Canadian research vessel. Over the years, her name was changed to Arctic Ranger, and it was during a 1988 purchase that she became the Arctic Discoverer – the name that she would bear throughout a major scandal.

In 1985, marine engineer Tommy Thompson began a search to find the wreck of SS Central America. The ship, heading to New York, had encountered a hurricane and sank off the coast of South Carolina. That was in 1857 while carrying a cargo hold full of California gold. Thompson was convinced that he had found the location of the shipwreck and set off in the Arctic Discoverer and a sub called Nemo.

Thompson hit paydirt, and salvaged a large amount of cargo from the sea floor. This reportedly kicked off a dispute over unpaid wages, secretly sold gold, insurance claims, and the nonpayment of investments in the operation, all topped off by the disappearance of Thompson and his girlfriend. By the time they were found, the Arctic Discoverer had been abandoned.

Auctioned off by the government in 2013, the abandoned Florida ship was sold complete – with documents and logs pertaining to the expedition still on board. The purchasers started slowly dismantling the abandoned ship as it languished in the Florida waters, selling it piece by piece. So came an ignominious fate for the vessel that played such an incredible role in the discovery of a long-lost treasure.

Green Gables, Melbourne

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abandoned-florida-green-gables-melbourne-fl-2 (Images: Dan Tantrum; Leonard J. DeFrancisci; Green Gables, Melbourne FL)

W.T. Wells and his family moved to Melbourne, Florida in 1896 and around that time built their graceful Queen Anne-style home. Today, the fate of the house affectionately called Green Gables is still up in the air, with a strange footnote to the law preventing it from being saved.

In order for the home to be designated a historic property, it needs the support of the owners. In 2014, Florida Today reported that permission wasn’t given, and that the abandoned Florida house was facing demolition in spite of its historic value, period architecture and history.

Wells was a metallurgical engineer who held several major patents, including one for the production of “rustless iron” and a railway locomotive engine part. He owned a pineapple plantation and an orange grove, and his support for the community was unwavering. He not only financed the first school in Melbourne, but he paid the first teacher, too. He donated the land for Wells Park and for roads, funded the library, and became known as an active pillar of the community. Unfortunately, like so many properties, his once-elegant home suffered so much storm damage that it’s become uninhabitable.

Since the filing of approval for demolition, the local historical society has been working hard to not only preserve the abandoned house, but the history that goes along with it.

Keep Reading – 10 Haunting Abandoned Power Stations of the World

 
 
 

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