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The Commodore’s boathouse

This is where Florida yachting started. It’s Ralph Munroe’s boathouse in what is now the bustling city of Coconut Grove.

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Munroe may have been one of the original snowbirds. Born in 1851, he was a displaced Northerner from New York who first came to Florida on vacation in 1877.

He returned four years later in hopes of curing his ailing wife, Eva, of tuberculosis. When she passed away, he went back to New York to find that his daughter had died of influenza.

Desolate, he returned to the shores of Biscayne Bay and helped open a hotel that became the Peacock Inn, a legendary hostelry that’s a story in itself. He permanently moved to Coconut Grove in 1886.

But Munroe’s real passion was yacht design, and as Northern sailors began to discover the pleasures of Florida yachting, he supplied them with sailboats — 56 designs in all. (He also worked in the lucrative Florida sea salvage/wrecking business.) He built a boathouse-home that became the local sailing center. When he helped form the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club in 1887, the boathouse was its clubhouse and Munroe its first commodore, giving him the nickname by which he would be known the rest of his life.

Commodore Munroe eventually built himself a real home on the property, and in 1891 he moved into what he called The Barnacle. The name proved fitting, reflecting both the octagonal shape of its main room and the fact that it has held fast to its patch of real estate, surviving the Great Hurricane of 1926 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The Barnacle today is part of the Florida Park Service system.

Munroe raised a second family in The Barnacle and lived there until his death in 1933 at the age of 82. Along the way, The Barnacle hosted many events and parties as the young town’s social and yachting center, helping attract people to what would soon be known as the Sunshine State.

January 2015 issue