Enjoy a Stroll Down Memory Lane:
Biscayne Bay Era
Drawn by the allure of his brother Jack’s tales of the tropical breezes, sapphire skies, green tree canopy and the crystal-clear waters of Biscayne Bay, Charles Peacock and his wife, Isabella, sold everything and closed up their life in London. They boarded a steamship bound for New York, and began their journey to the ‘Utopia’ Jack had depicted.
Paradise was difficult to reach as no overland route existed. In New York, the Peacocks changed to a Mallory Line Steamer to Key West, a bustling deep water port of over 18,000 people, 150 miles south of Miami. A local skipper from Key West, sailing a shallow draft boat to cross the treacherous rock and coral reef bottom of Biscayne Bay, took the Peacocks north to their destination.
Upon arrival, Charles and Isabella discovered the ‘Eden’ Jack had depicted was an undeveloped frontier outpost hidden in a wild hammock of dense tropical overgrowth. Approximately a dozen pioneer settlers lived in the mangrove entangled and mosquito infested back country that was South Florida in 1875. It could only be reached by a narrow Indian path that was cut through the wilderness, or a shallow draft boat. In the evening wild cats, raccoons, possums, the red panthers as well as an assortment of snakes came out to visit.
In 1875, there was no public lodging in the area. The Peacocks temporarily settled at old Fort Dallas on the Miami River and helped J. W. Ewan, Resident Manager of the Biscayne Bay Company, run his trading post and store.
Ralph Munroe, a business man, sailor and boat builder from Staten Island, brought his wife, Eva, to soak up the gentle tropical breezes in 1881. Her doctor had advised Eva that the warmer weather was a must to help extend her life and endeavor to cure her tuberculosis. The Munroe’s pitched their tents on the Miami River near old Fort Dallas where the hospitable Peacock family lived.
Munroe and his wife, Eva, visited again the next winter and Ralph fell in love with the wild isolated wilderness. Sadly, Eva died on this Florida visit in April 1882. Charles, Isabella and Ralph Munroe became good friends. After his wife’s death, Munroe returned to Staten Island to find his young daughter, who had stayed in Staten Island, had also just died.
Charles Peacock, in order to coax him to live in Florida year round, gave Ralph Munroe four acres of land on what is today the NE side of McFarland where the Woman’s Club and the Library are located.
Munroe was closing his New York enterprises and wrote to Peacock suggesting he go look for some waterfront land for a house and small hotel. Munroe would return and endeavor to advise the Peacocks in running and promoting the hotel. Munroe had many friends in New York who were eager to come explore the new community and they would need a place to stay.
By the winter of 1886, The Peacock Inn was overflowing with visitors and tents needed to be set up in the front yard! The hotel was renowned throughout the area for comfortable lodging and delicious food. Two additions to the hotel were in progress and Charles Peacock and his son had opened a local post office in their thriving General Store. A new building called The Peacocks Casino was used for dances, entertainment and community events.
Several of Ralph Munroe’s friends from New York had joined him to spend the winter. Some of that group brought more friends to see what Ralph had been so excited about in the small wilderness outpost accessible only by water.
Arva Moore Parks, author of The Forgotten Frontier: Florida Through the Lens of Ralph Middleton Munroe, said it best.
“These newcomers were not ordinary pioneers. Most were Easterners of some wealth, education and sophistication – a strange combination of tourist and frontiersman rolled into one. When they joined the growing settlement of native Bahamians and “Conchs” that preceded them, Coconut Grove, as a community was born. Before long there was a yacht club for the Easterners and a School and Sunday School for young families. Charles Peacock and his son opened a store where the Woman’s Club later established a library.”
There was little cash on the frontier and people bartered for things. In 1886, Munroe traded $400 and his 30-foot-long sharpie sailboat, Kingfish, to John Frow, for 160 acres on Biscayne Bay next to Peacock’s hotel. Munroe built a two-story boathouse and moved in. Then he and other men in the community formed the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club. Munroe became Commodore and the upstairs of his boathouse became the Yacht Club.
Word of the exciting new Inn and waterfront restaurant had spread and Ralph Munroe had so many friends coming from the frozen north to visit that he decided to build a larger home, making room for a few friends to stay with him and his new wife, Jesse Wirth. The home he built, the Barnacle, was not the typical pioneer home. It was a unique square with a high hipped roof creating a wide verandah all around the house. It offered expansive views of Biscayne Bay.
Today, the Barnacle, built in 1891, is still standing in downtown Coconut Grove. In 1973, the state of Florida purchased the house and grounds from the Munroe family. It is now a State Park for all to visit. It is definitely a Legacy and Tribute to Commodore Ralph Munroe and his family,
The first photo above is Ralph Munroe’s boathouse. This was how the South Florida coast looked (minus the boathouse and Peacock Inn) when Charles and Isabella Peacock arrived in 1875. Notice the Peacock Inn to the right and set back from the coast.
More “Happenings” in Coconut Grove
End of the Era of the Bay
Published in the Miami Metropolis 1897
Bay Fronts at Coconut Grove will soon all be gone.
“We have a tract of 21 acres left. Price $4,500. Or, we will cut tracts in half so as to make two lots of ten and one-half acres each and will sell either lot for $2,500. Cash preferred, but if desired, half cash and the remainder in one year at 8 percent to right party. This property is Bay Front and lies between the places of A. R. Simmons and A. A. Boggs. Better secure a Bayfront while you can. They will all be gone a year hence.”
This property was next to Dr. Eleanor Galt Simmons in an excellent part of South Coconut Grove.
Dr. David Fairchild, a renowned botanist and educator who traveled the world in search of useful and unique plants to be introduced to the United States, purchased the property known today as the Kampong in 1916. His name and outstanding reputation brought tropical plant enthusiasts from around the world to Coconut Grove. Today the Kampong (#1 on the map) is an eight acre Tropical Nature Research Preserve.
Many of the homes in lush South Coconut Grove are built among what were active working groves of Avocados, Mangos, Guavas, Grapefruit, Kumquat, Loquat and more. When the 1920’s real estate boom began many of the growers became real estate agents and developers!
Note the new building (#2) at the end of St. Gaudens. I am told that will be three single family homes.
Today many buyers prefer the gated Bay Front Communities. Four Way Lodge Estates and The Moorings are two of the favorites. Look carefully on the aerial and you will see other communities. The price can vary dramatically depending on the size and proximity to the water. We just sold a Bayfront home in Fourway Lodge Estates for $9,000,000 on a 12,000 sq. ft. lot. Last year direct Bayfront at the end of Matheson, on a 21,233 sq. ft. lot sold for, sold for $19,750,000.
When Henry Flagler brought his railroad to Cocoanut Grove it changed forever the peaceful ambiance of the Biscayne Bay waterfront community. The fiercely independent pioneers who had carved a lifestyle out of the wilderness and settled on the mysterious bit of land that could only be reached by boat or the narrow Indian path were about to have visitors.
After the April 1896 train arrival, vivid newspaper accounts of the breathtaking beauty and gentle tropical breezes of Cocoanut Grove was being spread around the globe by glowing newspaper reports. Buyers and tourists fleeing from the frozen north flocked to Florida and fell in love with the warm breezes, subtropical foliage and lush gardens in the exotic Hammocks.
Many famous personalities including the internationally known boys books author and first editor of Harper’s Young People Magazine, Kirk Munroe and his wife Mary Barr Munroe an environmentalist and civic activist, made Cocoanut Grove their home. August Saint-Gaudens, the famous bronze sculptor and his wife created a waterfront home on Saint Gaudens Road. Flora McFarlane, the first woman homesteader and school teacher chose Coconut Grove for home.
Always an international center, Coconut Grove had two titled Counts in residence. Count Patrick Nugent was from Paris and admitted to a bit of Irish blood. Count Jean D’Hedouville was French.
Today Coconut Grove is known worldwide for the tropical breezes, sapphire skies, lush green tree canopy and the crystal-clear waters of Biscayne Bay.
I do wonder what Charles and Isabella Peacock and Ralph Munroe would say about the Coconut Grove of today!
If you have a question about the aerials or anything else in this Historical Review, please contact me.
Numbers are placed as near as possible to the proper property.
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