The Bie family boathouse, originally built in 1911, as it looked in 1944.
Photo courtesy of ERNEST WILLIAM BILLY BIE
The Bie family boathouse in 2001 looks much as it did in 1944.
The boathouse was built about 1911 on property owned by Horace H. Hamlin, who owned numerous other properties in the county. Harry Ulmer, a citrus grove entrepreneur who kept his boat Miss Largo in one of its three boat wells, built it. During the early 1930s, local mullet fishermen Bill Ransom and Ross Johns lived in it.
In 1938 my father, Norman A. Bie, a Realtor in Tampa since 1918, bought the boathouse from Hamlin. He proceeded to turn it into a home for his wife Rita and six children, ages 3 to 15, plus his real estate office. When we moved in, the first floor was two open boat wells with catwalks, and the roadside of the center boat well had been floored to use as a garage. The second floor had one large room on the west side with an open porch on the east side overlooking the bay.
Mother cleverly divided the large room into fourths by nailing up strings and hanging bed sheets over them, which created a kitchen and three bedrooms, one for my three sisters, one for us three boys, and one for my parents. In the kitchen we had an icebox, which was replenished several times a week by an ice truck that came to our house, and the stove was a three-burner metal kerosene stove. Mother used a washboard and bucket to do our laundry. Remember, 1938 was one of the Great Depression years and times were not easy.
Within three years, Dad had the boat wells completely floored to make three rooms and a bath. The center was his real estate office. Upstairs, partitions were built forming living and dining rooms, kitchen, two bedrooms and bath. The porch was fully screened. Soon a third floor dormitory and bath were added and a small building next to the boathouse for mother’s laundry room.
With youngsters sleeping on the third floor, Dad added a ladder on the bay side from the top floor down to the first as a fire escape. It has never been used for that purpose, but we kids and friends, children and grandchildren have certainly had fun jumping off the ladder into the bay at high tide.
The boathouse was a wonderful place to grow up. Over the years we had bicycles, a kayak, canoe, 25-horsepower motorboat and water skis. We had a library full of books, cards and games, ping-pong table, piano, ukulele, harmonica and guitar. We caught fish with hook-and-line, rods, nets and homemade spear gun. Bay scallops were plentiful as were blue crabs in the Gulf.
In 1946 Dad put a stable on the lot across Gulf Boulevard from the boathouse and two horses, Trippi and Danny that we rode on the beach. They loved swimming in the Gulf! High tides have brought water into the first floor maybe 15 times through the years, but no storm has so much as removed a shingle.
Dad lived in the boathouse until he died in 1974. Mother lived there until she was 98 years old. The boathouse continues to be home base for our Bie family, now and into the future.
Editor’s note: Ernest William “Billy” Bie submitted this description of the Bie family’s life in the boathouse, a historic home in Indian Rock Beach. It was built in 1911 or 1912 on 24 pilings and turned into a home for Bie’s mother and six children. Bie’s father, Norman Bie, and his mother, Rita Monrose Bie, were born in 1895 and 1894 respectively.