THE BARNACLE HISTORIC STATE PARK
This beautiful house with a whimsical name dates to a quieter time. The Barnacle, built in 1891, offers a glimpse of Old Florida during The Era of the Bay. Situated on the shore of Biscayne Bay, this was the home of Ralph Middleton Munroe, one of Coconut Grove's most charming and influential pioneers. Munroe's principal passion was designing yachts. In his lifetime, he drew plans for 56 different boats. As a seaman, civic activist, naturalist, and photographer, Commodore Munroe was a man who cherished the natural world around him. A walk into the park passes through a tropical hardwood hammock. In the 1920s, it was representative of the original landscape within the city of Miami. Today, it is one of the last remnants of the once vast Miami Hammock. Enjoy sitting in the rocking chairs on the spacious porch used as a gathering place or on a bench under a tree for solitude.
Ralph Munroe first visited South Florida in 1877 while on vacation from New York. His next visit to the area was not as pleasant. In 1881, doctors told Munroe that his wife Eva and her sister Adeline suffered from tuberculosis. According to Munroe, doctors warned that without an absolute change of climate, they would be incurable.
Munroe immediately thought of beautiful Biscayne Bay, and at once prepared to take them there. Despite his efforts, illness took its toll. Eva passed away at their camp along the bank of the Miami River. Her sister's death followed and Munroe was met with the news of the death of his infant daughter upon his arrival back in New York.
He returned to South Florida in 1882 to visit the grave of his wife and to help an acquaintance open a hotel on the shore of Biscayne Bay. First known as Bay View Villa, the hotel was renamed Peacock Inn and the establishment had a long and profitable history.
Ralph Munroe originally purchased 40 acres of bayfront land in 1886 for $400 and one of his sailboats, Kingfish, which he valued at an additional $400. His boathouse was built in 1887 and Munroe lived in its upper floor until he had his main house built in 1891. The house was a one-story structure which was raised off the ground on wood pilings. Its central room was octagonal in shape and Munroe came to call his home the Barnacle. It remained a bungalow until more space was needed in 1908. At that time the whole structure, as it stood, was lifted and a new first floor inserted below. The Barnacle house survived the disastrous hurricane of 1926 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 with only minimal damage.
Ralph Munroe's principal zest in life was designing yachts. Boats were a major form of transportation in the early days and yachting was a popular sport. Many South Florida pioneers commissioned Munroe to design their yachts. In 1887, a group of residents formed the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club. They elected Ralph Munroe as Commodore, a title he held for 22 years. In his lifetime, the Commodore drew plans for 56 different boats. Micco, the last of Munroe's boats in existence, was displayed here until Hurricane Andrew's impact reduced the 101-year-old vessel to fragments. Egret, a replica of Munroe's 28-foot modified sharpie, is now moored offshore. The fall of 1894 marked the beginning of Ralph Munroe's new family. He met Miss Jessie Wirth while on a cruise with friends. They were married that spring, the beginning of a long and happy home life at the Barnacle. In 1900, Jessie gave birth to a daughter, Patty. Patty was followed two years later by her brother Wirth. The family took frequent cruises on the Bay and the children learned to sail at a very early age.
With the Florida Reef lining the southeast coast, ships frequently ran aground. Many people in the area made a living by salvaging these ships - a profession called wrecking. This was one of Ralph Munroe's most adventurous endeavors. Before his time, wrecking activities were often carried out by pirates and buccaneers. Munroe's wrecking days were honorable. There were formal contracts between wrecking companies and underwriters. Work was performed by divers, steam winches, pumps, barges, tugs and other modern equipment of the era. When on a tour of the Barnacle, you will see some remnants of Munroe's wrecking ventures.
As you walk into this historic site from busy Main Highway, you are surrounded by a forest called a tropical hardwood hammock. In the 1920s it was a representative example of the original landscape within the limits of Miami. Today, it is one of the last places where one can see a remnant of the once vast Miami Hammock. Commodore Munroe preserved the original hammock between the road and the Barnacle, cutting out only a winding buggy trail barely wide enough for one vehicle. As a result, the forest contains many old trees and appears much as it did in Munroe's day.