The Barnacle, Coconut Grove – Exploring Miami

by | January 17, 2020 |

The title image is the view of Biscayne Bay from the second-floor porch of The Barnacle. The screen makes the view look like a postcard. It isn’t!

The Barnacle is the oldest house in Miami-Dade County still in its original location. It once sat on 40 acres but now has only 5. However, those 5 acres are smack dab in the middle of downtown Coconut Grove. It is so central that I have walked by it any number of times, without really noticing it.

Here’s the entrance:

The Barnacle

Easy (for me) to miss. I’m usually more focused on the bars and restaurants right across the street.

The moment you step beyond the gate, you’re in the Miami Hammock of a 100 years ago. A hammock occurs on high, dry ground where the ranges of northern temperate tree species and southern tropical species overlap.

The Barnacle

The Miami Hammock once stretched 50 miles on the ridge separating Biscayne Bay from the Everglades. Development has replaced it. Another property in Coconut Grove that has preserved part of the hammock is the Vizcaya Estate.

The Barnacle: History

Ralph Munroe (1851 – 1933) built his house in 1891. He named it after its roof … which looks like a barnacle? (Okay, let’s go with that.) The current second floor was the original first floor. After the hurricane of 1926, which battered the house, Munroe had it raised to become the second floor. Then he added a cement-reinforced first floor.

The Barnacle

The equipment on the lawn is for the lighting and sound system for the free Shakespeare in the Park staging of MacBeth this weekend, January 17, 18, and 19.

The furnishings throughout the house are original:

Even the fixtures, including the pump at the kitchen sink:

The upstairs has four bedrooms. Here’s one for a child, rather cheerful:

On this floor you get the idea of the roof. Nice skylight! Also, a series of vents create updrafts, so you feel a light pleasant breeze. No need for air-conditioning.

The tops of the doors to two bedrooms can be seen on the lower right and left of this image:

The gallery was used for storage. And maybe as a place for hot air to rise away from the bedrooms. For the kids it had to be a great place to play.

The most remarkable feature of the house is that a good part of the wood used for the frame and the beams came from shipwrecks. Munroe, like most men of his day in Miami, recovered shipwrecks.

(The Spanish-American War of 1898, which involved Cuba, was likely good for the salvaging business. Want a list of Florida shipwrecks? Here it is.)

During most of Munroe’s lifetime, travel anywhere was by dingy. The one, below, is now oddly out of place.

Cars weren’t useful because there were no roads.

The Barnacle: Today

In the 1970s, when the property taxes finally became too high, the Munroe family had to figure out what to do. They could have become extremely wealthy by selling the land to developers. However, they chose to preserve the integrity of the property by giving it to the State of Florida.

It is now a State Park. Lots of public events are held here through the year: Moonlight Concerts, Starlight Movie Classics, and, as I’ve noted above, outdoor theater.

The Boat House is picturesque:

The Pavilion between the house and the bay is available for daytime party rental:

And there is likely no other house in the area whose front lawn opens onto the bay.

Mostly the visit left me sad. Development really does crowd the property on both sides.

I don’t have anything original to say here. At the moment I’m sitting at a Starbucks. Of course it has primo location at a busy intersection hardly more than 100 yards from the entrance to the park. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all the development. At the same time I can’t help but grieve for the destruction of this unique ecosystem. And lament all the non-recyclables Starbucks spews out into the world every day.

Me, I’ve got my eco-cup. And walk everywhere instead of drive. But, still …. Drop in the the bucket.

See also: Coconut Grove – Exploring Miami

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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