House of Refuse

Bahia Mar:  More than Just a Hotel and Marina!

Most residents don’t realize how much Bahia Mar played an essential role in Fort Lauderdale’s development and name. Bahia Mar’s colorful history includes the 3rd Seminole War Fort – Fort Lauderdale, a House of Refuge for Shipwrecked Sailors, and Coast Guard Station 6, used for chasing rumrunners during Prohibition. Bahia Mar is also the site of an Indian Haulover where the Seminoles dragged their boats from the river to the sea. Finally, Bahia Mar is also the home of Fort Lauderdale’s famous fictional detective “Travis McGee.”

Fort Lauderdale Seminole War Fort:

Bahia Mar is the location of the 3rd Seminole War Fort, which was built during the Second Seminole War in the 1830s. The City of Fort Lauderdale is named after the 3rd Seminole War Fort.

In 1906, seven-year-old James Vreeland discovered the remains of lead balls, flint chips, and yellow chards of pottery on the beach across from Bahia Mar. The relics are from the 3rd and last Seminole War Fort, “Fort Lauderdale,” which was active until the wars ended in 1842. They say Major William Lauderdale founded the fort on the beach. However, when it was built, Lauderdale had been dead for a year and a half.

Seminole Wars:

The term “Seminole” is a derivative of “cimarron”, which means “wild men” in Spanish.

The Seminole Wars lasted for 40 years – it was the longest Indian war in the United States.

Florida became a state in 1845, Throughout the war, people had heard that the land was worthless, often underwater, and plagued by disease and unbearable temperatures in the summer. The presence of the remaining Seminoles, whose tenacity and ferocity in the past war had become legendary, made other portions of the nation appear more favorable for settlement. Wanting to remove the perceived Seminole threat, the government began to pressure the remaining Seminoles to be removed from Florida.

During the war, the army brought in thousands of soldiers and began patrolling the Everglades in search of Seminole hideouts. The frontier population fled to the cities or nearby fortifications as the Seminoles raided isolated homesteads. For two and a half years, the fighting went on, with numerous minor skirmishes but few significant battles.

Indian Removal Act:

President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law on May 28, 1830. It authorized the president to grant lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders.

Only one group of Indians — the Seminoles — successfully resisted removal, and they did so fiercely. Their resistance to removal brought about the Second Seminole War. It began on December 28, 1835, when Seminole warriors massacred a column of 108 soldiers led by Major Dade at the Dade Battle in Sumpter County. Just four days later, on December 31, the famous Seminole leader Osceola (pronounced as Asi-Yaholo), with only 250 warriors, attacked a column of 750 men under General Duncan Clinch in the Battle of Withlacoochee in Citrus County. He soundly defeated the soldiers. Osceola vowed to fight the white invaders “till the last drop of Seminole blood has moistened the dust of his hunting ground.”

However, they did coerce a small group of Seminoles into signing a removal treaty in 1833. Still, most of the tribe declared the treaty illegitimate and refused to leave. The resulting struggle was the 2nd Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842. As in the first war, fugitive slaves fought beside the Seminoles who had taken them in. Thousands of lives were lost in the war, which cost the Jackson administration approximately 40 to 60 million dollars — ten times the amount it had allotted for Indian removal. In the end, most of the Seminoles moved to the new territory. The few who remained had to defend themselves in the 3rd Seminole War (1855-58) when the U.S. military attempted to drive them out. Finally, the United States paid the remaining Seminoles to move west. When the Seminole Wars were over, less than 200 Seminoles remained in Florida.

Although the war was over years later, there was still no formal ending or treaty; the Indians lost. Most of the Seminoles, along with Indian tribes from all over America, would soon face the tragic trek to Oklahoma on the “Trail of Tears”. It is not clear exactly how many Seminoles were killed or died during the Trail of the Tears. Some estimates put the number around 3,000 Seminole deaths.

Today, nearly 19,000 Seminoles live there—descendants from Florida. In 1987, the U.S. Congress designated the “Trail of Tears” as a National Historic Trail in memory of those who had suffered and died during the removal.

For the next 28 years, the United States government struggled to force the southeastern nations’ relocation. It had been allotted for Indian removal. In the end, most of the Seminoles moved to the new territory. The few who remained had to defend themselves in the 3rd Seminole War when the U.S. military attempted to drive them out. Finally, the United States paid the remaining Seminoles to move west.

The House of Refuge:

Ships from all over were wrecked in sudden storms along Florida’s east coast. If the crew and passengers managed to survive the wreck, where would they go?

After surviving a shipwreck, a swim to land did not guarantee seamen safety on Florida’s east coast during its early days. Human bones discovered over the years are testimony to the onshore hardships of those who managed to escape sinking ships. Florida was a wild, desolate place with sandy barrier islands that offered freshwater only to those with shovels who knew where to dig.

Eventually, an agency called the United States Life Saving Service ordered five Houses of Refuge to be built along the Florida coast. The houses were the homes of the keepers and their families. They were also required to go along the beach in both directions, searching for castaways immediately after a storm. Keepers were not expected to affect actual lifesaving, nor were they equipped to, but merely were required to provide food, water, and a dry bed for shipwrecked sailors, nor were they equipped,

The 54-by-25-foot House of Refuge at Bahia Mar faced the ocean and was built to withstand hurricanes and tropical storms. It had rooms on the first floor for the keeper’s family and a loft available for surviving sailors. Nearby in the exact general location was the 3rd Seminole War fort named for Maj. William Lauderdale.

U.S. Coast Guard Base 6:

The House of Refuge was destroyed in a devastating hurricane. The location was taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard and designated Base 6 at Bahia Mar. Coast Guard Base 6 chased rumrunners from the Bahamas during Prohibition. More than a few officers lost their lives in battles on our waterways.

During Prohibition, the South Florida Coast facing the Bahamas was one of the most active areas where rum runners plied their trade. It was the Coast Guard’s mission to arrest them. With so many inlets and mangrove thickets (Whiskey Creek) to hide in, lawbreakers and law enforcers played a deadly game of hide-and-seek with no quarter asked or given. The Coast Guard built up an impressive record of rum boats captured, and rum runners brought to justice. Of course, no tally on the rum boats that got away or the rum runners who got rich and went scot-free.

The book, “The Hanging at Bahia Mar,” is a factual story about James Horace Alderman, a rum runner and smuggler. He defied the law and got away with it for a while. However, Alderman eventually wound up with a rope around his neck. 

James Horace Alderman was a triple murderer, smuggler, and gangster during the United States Prohibition era. He killed three men, two Coast Guardsmen, and a United States Secret Service operative while checking his boat for contraband whiskey. He was tried, found guilty, and hanged at the Coast Guard Base 6 in Fort Lauderdale. He became known in the press by names like the “King of the Rum Runners” and the “Gulf Stream Pirate.”

Although he was tried in the county court and condemned to death, the City of Fort Lauderdale didn’t want to be involved in his execution. Some say a city clerk did some research and found out that Alderman committed a crime on the high seas, which technically made him a pirate. According to Maritime Law at the time, captured Pirates were hung in the first port they entered — Alderman was hung in the seaplane hangar on Coast Guard Station 6.

Rumor has it that on each August 17, at 6:04 AM, you can see Alderman’s ghost on the back of the property which was the time he was hung on August 17, 1929,

Bahia Mar Development:

After World War II, a private corporation emerged to build a marina as the Coast Guard base was declared “surplus.” But Bahia Mar Corporation defaulted on payments to the city two years after completing the marina in 1949. There are several differing accounts of the following parts of the story. Still, the bottom line is that the city could only wholly take over the property by purchasing it from the federal government. There were suits and countersuits by various interested parties. Still, the city won out thanks to an effort by a couple of familiar names.

With the help of his friend U.S. Sen. Claude Pepper, City Attorney George English whittled down the purchase price to $600,000 from $1 million. The city still didn’t have enough cash and had to go to private donors.

Col. Joseph Mackey of Mackey Airlines (later Eastern Airlines) thought the development of Bahia Mar was a landmark move for our city. He said wealthy yachting sportspeople from all over would find the Bahia Mar Marina a marvelous place to dock. Once here, they’d fall in love with the city and buy real estate.

Next time you take a visitor to the Jungle Queen, notice where you are. As you pass by the marina with magnificent yachts – and then, as you run the gamut of multimillion-dollar homes – you might ponder Mackey’s statement.

Or you may think of how far we’ve come since that barren strip of beach along the marina,

In addition to the geographic history of Bahia Mar, it is also the longtime resident of John D. McDonald’s “Travis McGee and the Busted Flush.”

Travis McGee has been called the first great modern Florida adventurer. Travis moored his famous 52-ft houseboat, the “Busted Flush,” at slip F18 Bahia Mar.

John D. MacDonald’s celebrated detective, Travis McGee, is featured in a series of novels that looms large in Bahia Mar’s history. Many people who have never even been to Fort Lauderdale or a boat show have heard of the Bahia Mar Marina and Travis McGee. Today, the marina, officially known as the Bahia Mar Resort and Yachting Center, is where Travis McGee’s adventures were made. Slip F18. Is the home of McGee’s houseboat, the Busted Flush, won at a poker game?

The opening of the first book, “The Deep Blue Goodbye.” 1964 “It was to have been a quiet evening at home. Home is Busted Flush, 52-foot barge-type houseboat, Slip 18, Bahia Mar Lauderdale.” List of Travis McGee Books (All Mentioning Bahia Mar). Travis McGee book covers.

The Deep Blue Good-by (1964)One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966)The Turquoise Lament (1973)
Nightmare in Pink (1964)Pale Gray for Guilt (1968)The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974)
A Purple Place for Dying (1964)The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968)The Empty Copper Sea (1978)
The Quick Red Fox (1964)Dress Her in Indigo (1969)The Green Ripper (1979)
A Deadly Shade of Gold (1965)The Long Lavender Look (1970)Free Fall in Crimson (1981)
Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965)A Tan and Sandy Silence (1971)Cinnamon Skin (1982)
Darker than Amber (1966)The Scarlet Ruse (1972)The Lonely Silver Rain (1984)

There is also a Travis McGee Fan Club on Facebook that currently has 1,526 members.

Slip F18 Dedication Ceremony

On February 21, 1987, marina personnel painted over the number at slip F602 and officially renamed it F18 at a dedication ceremony attended by about 250 people. Fans flew in from Texas and New York, then-Fort Lauderdale mayor Robert Cox lent a hand, and the event garnered live coverage by a radio station in California. 

A plaque was dedicated in 1987 at Bahia Mar Marina. The Library of Congress

designated the slip a literary landmark. The McGee monument was the first one established by the Literary Landmarks Association, a nonprofit literary group that has since memorialized 27 other spots around the country.

 Unfortunately, the bronze plaque commemorating Fort Lauderdale’s and Bahia Mar’s most famous resident, Travis McGee, no longer marks Slip F18. A random poll of dockhands reveals that knowledge of Travis McGee and the Busted Flush or slip F18’s original location is nonexistent.

While readership of the Travis McGee mystery series continues to grow (32 million books in print) — — bookworm visitors to Bahia Mar may be fewer today than in the past.

Bahia Mar — More Than a Hotel & Marina!

I hope the new developers will see the benefit of using the significance of Bahia Mar’s location and history in their marketing plans. Bring back the plaque for slip F18, home of Travis McGee and the Busted Flush. 

Bahia Mar is a Historical and Literary Landmark and should never be developed into a condominium.