In town for the opening of a “G7 2070” an immersive play by an emerging young playwright, William Hector, set fifty years in the future when the city of Miami is only an archipelago having been subsumed by rising sea levels caused by climate change, it seemed fitting to visit the oldest house in Miami-Dade County standing in its original location.
Set in Coconut Grove, the oldest neighborhood in the city, approximately 17 feet above sea level on a coral ridge, the charmingly named Barnacle House was built in 1891 by Ralph Middleton Munroe, a widower from Staten Island and first Commodore of the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club on the nearby bay. Initially designed as a simple bungalow, Monroe named it “The Barnacle” because he thought the shape of the roof resembled one.
“The early settlers knew the safest places to settle,” explained local architect Joanna Lombard Hector. “The Barnacle is completely climate appropriate, for example, there is a lovely view of Biscayne Bay from the porch which never gets direct sun so it’s always a pleasant place to sit.”
The house was constructed for Monroe by his neighbors, Charles Peacock, Joe Frow and Ben Newbold, according to the Barnacle Historic State Park website. Monroe’s design included an octagonal central room with an open attic and a cupola fitted with transom windows operated by long ropes for ventilation. Large porches provide protection from sun and rain. He used shipwreck timbers, sawn on the mill next door, for the framework and brought in siding, flooring, ceiling, shingles, and millwork from Pensacola.
Munroe modified the house in 1908 to accommodate his growing family. Using railroad jacks and blocks to lift the whole house, he constructed a new first floor underneath and the original bungalow became the second floor. Later he added electricity and a semi-attached library and replaced shingles on the roof with the distinctive orange Ludovici tiles seen today.
The house survived the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 with minimal damage, and the last major structural changes took place soon after. The house attained its present appearance by 1928 after the last major renovation that included stuccoing the exterior walls, remodeling the kitchen and second floor, and adding contemporary plumbing and heating systems, according to the website.
The Barnacle House is set in bustling Coconut Grove, think a larger, tropical version of Larchmont Village, one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city now one of the most walkable and trendiest places to live. It’s a short walk from the Barnacle to the heart of the commercial district of the Grove home to shops and eateries like Blue Mercury, Le Pain Quotidien, and Salt & Straw, sound familiar?
Still, the unique character of the surrounding neighborhood prevails including an interesting solution to maintaining smooth sidewalks around mature street trees. There’s still some question about the climate appropriateness of the rubbery material, though it is supposed to be permeable allowing rainwater and oxygen to get through to tree roots.
Maybe a solution for Larchmont’s challenging sidewalks?