The Biscayne Times

Aug 05th
A Secluded Slice of Old Coconut Grove PDF Print E-mail
Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
September 2019

The Barnacle is home to ghosts and hardwood hammocK

BParkPatrol_1oat builder Ralph Middleton Munroe purchased 40 acres of Biscayne Bay frontage property from Henry Flagler in 1886, costing him $400 and a sailboat. At the time, only a dozen families lived in the area dubbed Cocoanut Grove, which was incorporated as a city in 1919 and annexed by the City of Miami in 1925.

Next door to Munroe was the Peacock family, who built the Bay View Villa -- the first hotel on South Florida’s mainland, later renamed the Peacock Inn.

In 1887, Munroe built a boathouse there, where he lived until his house was completed in 1891. He named the house the Barnacle, as he thought the octagonal central room looked like a barnacle, and thought it would be as stubborn and sturdy as the sea creature in a hurricane. Partially constructed of salvaged shipwreck wood, it has proved Munroe right, lasting nearly unscathed through the killer 1926 hurricane and Hurricanes Andrew, Wilma, and Irma. Today it’s the oldest house in Miami-Dade County in its original location.

ParkPatrol_2The boathouse wasn’t as fortunate; it was destroyed in the 1926 storm. But Munroe designed his next boathouse to withstand the forces of wind and water by creating front and rear breakaway walls that give way to surge instead of destroying them. A concrete foundation, bracing, and guywires from the ground to the second floor gave the building its stability. The design worked as planned during Hurricane Andrew, limiting boathouse damage to the first floor. Hurricane Irma threw a fishing trawler into it and the boathouse survived.

The Barnacle is where Munroe lived until his death in 1933, with his second wife, Jessie Wirth Munroe, and his children, Wirth and Patty. (When first wife Eva came down with tuberculosis, Munroe brought her to Florida for recuperation. She died in 1882.)

A third generation of the family, Charles and William Munroe, grew up there, and the family sold off all the property to developers, except for the five acres containing the house, boathouse, and carriage house, which they donated to the State of Florida and is now the Barnacle Historic State Park, managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

ParkPatrol_3Guided tours of the house by the park service are available for $3 ($1 for kids ages 6-12 and free for kids 5 and under). Ranger Gregory Bonilla, who has been with the park service here for a year, gave the BT a tour and a lesson in the Barnacle’s history, explaining how Munroe embarked on building a new first floor made of concrete and stucco underneath the original by hoisting up the old first story in 1908. Electricity and a library were added in 1913.

A walk through the house is a walk back in time, when hand pumps brought stored rainwater into the kitchen, a coal stove was used to prepare meals, a root cellar stored fresh foods for weeks and months, and living without air conditioning was part of the South Florida pioneer’s life.

Today only the library is air conditioned, to preserve Munroe’s book collection and a new exhibit of the commodore’s yacht designs. A museum registrar was hired to catalogue recent Munroe family and associates’ donated artifacts.


Century-old children’s toys, prams, tools, hand-crafted furniture, china, and photographic equipment grace the old house, as if Munroe and his family were still living there. Some staff say they are, as the house and surrounding grounds have been the locations of ghost sightings. Ranger Bonilla experienced the scent of cigar smoke wafting through the old carriage house one day, which is now used as a park office and gift shop. Munroe was known to smoke cigars on its second-floor living quarters.

Also located on the great lawn facing the bay is the large Micco pavilion, which is available for private event rentals. The park holds monthly Moonlight Concerts, movie nights, Florida Shakespeare Theater productions, and the annual Cigars and Cars, and Commodore’s Birthday Party.

At the water’s edge adjacent to the boathouse is a replica of Munroe’s marine railway -- a dry dock and boat launch built by volunteers from the non-profit Barnacle Society in 2015. In Munroe’s day, railroad tracks on pilings led out to the water, and a carriage rode the rails to retrieve floating boats by hauling them back on land along the tracks. Munroe was referred to as “the Commodore” after founding the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club and becoming its first commodore. Only wood pilings remain of a dock jutting out into the water -- a victim of Hurricane Irma storm surge, which also damaged the boathouse, boathouse viewing area, marine railway, and the pavilion.


Weesam Khoury, a media relations manager for the state, tells the BT: “Restoration of the boathouse and marine railway are complete, and now the focus is on repairing the other affected structures. The project to rebuild the dock has been funded by the state.” Khoury explains that a fire suppression system has been installed and kitchen ceiling repairs have been made. Second-floor ceiling damage due to a bee infestation and hive removal is scheduled to start soon.

Across from the Barnacle along Main Highway are public parking lots for all-day $7 and $8 parking. After entering, leave the $2 visitor fee, and stroll along the stamped-concrete trail that leads through a magnificent tropical hardwood hammock, one of the last remaining such forests in Florida. Park Ranger Bonilla points out that exotic and invasive plants are routinely removed from the hammock; hurricanes blow in invasive seeds and thin out the forest canopy, allowing invasives to grow.

The only “protected” exotics are the ones that Munroe himself planted, which are considered historical by the park service: coconut palms, pineapples, limes, guava, and bamboo. Interpretive signs pop up along the trail and around the great lawn, explaining the flora and fauna, Munroe’s building techniques, and historical facts. On-leash pets are welcome, and Coconut Grovers love to walk them there in the peaceful setting of this darn-near perfect park.


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The Barnacle Historic State Park
3485 Main Hwy.
Miami, FL 33133

Park Rating
palm-1 palm-1 palm-1 palm-05 palm-05

Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Picnic Tables
: Yes
Barbecues: No
Picnic pavilions: Yes
Tennis Courts: No
Athletic fields: Yes
Swimming pool: No
Night lighting: Yes
Playground: No


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