Oldest house still stands in Miami
In downtown Coconut Grove, Florida just off of Main Highway there sits a home perched on a hill over looking the beautiful waters of Biscayne Bay. The Barnacle, Ralph Middleton Munroe’s 19th century home, is the oldest house in Miami-Dade County, and it still stands in its original location.
Munroe in his time was one of Coconut Grove’s most charming and influential residents. Visiting the Barnacle provides the current generation an opportunity to revisit old Florida during the Era of the Bay.
While walking from the busy Main Highway in Coconut Grove visitors venture through a tropical hardwood hammock, one of the last remnants of the once vast tropical areas known as the “Miami Hammock.” Ralph Munroe cut a winding buggy trail only the width of one vehicle. By doing this Munroe preserved the original hammock between the road and The Barnacle. Amazingly, the tropical forest looks much of the same way as it did back in the 1800’s.
In 1877 Munroe made his first visit to South Florida while on a vacation from New York. Three years later in 1881, Munroe’s wife Eva contracted tuberculosis. Her doctor said that a change of climate would be her best hope for survival. The beautiful area of Biscayne Bay immediately came to mind by Munroe. He took his wife to the area. Despite his efforts, his wife did not make it, and she passed away at their camp on the Miami River.
In 1882 Munroe returned to South Florida and opened a hotel on Biscayne Bay. In 1886, for $400 and one of his sailboats, Kingfish, valued at an additional $400. Munroe purchased 40 acres of bayfront land. He built a boathouse in 1887. Munroe lived on the top floor of the boathouse until his bungalow was completed in 1891. This house was a one story structure, raised off the ground by wood pilings. Munroe decided to call his home “The Barnacle,” because he thought it looked like one. In 1908, he needed more space so he decided to life the whole structure and another floor was built below.
Fortunately, The Barnacle survived the disastrous 1926 hurricane and Hurricane Andrea in 1992 with minimal damage. Ralph Munroe had a passion for designing yachts. Being the major form of transportation in the early days of Coconut Grove boats were very popular. Many South Floridians commissioned Munroe to design their yachts. In his lifetime Munroe drew plans for 56 different yachts. Egret, a replica is now offshore at The Barnacle.
Commodore Munroe was a seaman, naturalist, and photographer. He cherished the natural world around him. The Barnacle, the oldest home in Miami-Dade Florida is now designated a historic state park. It is such a cherished preservation area for residents of South Florida and visitors from many places to enjoy.