Where Work Meets Play: Miami, Florida

For the past twenty years, I’ve come to Miami for one or more of the many regattas that are hosted here during the winter months. This is the first time I had a completely free day without the distractions of meetings or sailing, and I took full advantage by making a trek to the Barnacle.

I’d always wanted to visit the historic park, which is a slice of Old Florida hemmed in on three sides by condos and busy streets. Thanks to the hard work of preservationists and descendents of the original owner, Commodore Ralph Munroe, a slice of tropical hardwood hammock has been preserved that runs from Main Highway (a Coconut Grove drag strip of restaurants and bars) all the way down to the shoreline of Biscayne Bay. Once enveloped in the leafy quiet of tree canopy, visitors are transported back to the early twentieth century—a time when sailboats were still the best form of transportation.

The Commodore built his home, the Barnacle, in 1891, and since then it’s withstood several minor hurricanes as well as the two big ones in 1926 and 1992 (Andrew). It’s also self-cooled, thanks to a cupola that allows hot air to escape through the roof. Boat-inspired cabinetry shows Munroe’s love for yacht design.

Down on the shore, the boat house (built in 1886, and then rebuilt after the 1926 Hurricane) feels as if the yacht designer has just stepped away for a moment, leaving tools and a half-finished project on the bench. And enough of the marine railway has been preserved to visualize how boats were launched and hauled in the shallow bay. Best of all, trees hide the high rise buildings of Coconut Grove and downtown Miami, allowing visitors to imagine they have truly stepped back in time.

My original reason for a visit to the Barnacle was the tickles of a new Oliver story. Even if our favorite time traveler doesn’t choose to come here, I’m glad he inspired me to visit. The Barnacle gives us all a glimpse of a Florida that’s less than a century in the past—but is an entirely different world in terms of priorities, landscaping, and transportation. It’s well worth a visit for anyone interested in boatbuilding, Florida history—or even time travel.

For more information, visit the Barnacle website. A reprinted edition of The Commodore’s Story by Ralph Munroe and Vincent Gilpin is also available. And the Commodore’s excellent photographs offer a glimpse into the past online, via these archives: