Historical Museum of Southern Florida
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Ralph Munroe designed and built sailing boats, notably sharpies and presto-type boats. He wintered in South Florida beginning in 1877, and moved to Coconut Grove in 1889. He built his home, the Barnacle, in 1891, and added another floor in 1908. In 1895 he married his second wife, Jessie Wirth, and they had two children, Patty and Wirth. The three appear in a number of the photographs in this collection. Beginning in 1902, he operated Camp Biscayne (Coconut Grove) as a tourist resort. With Vincent Gilpin as co-author, he wrote an autobiography in the last years of his life.
Shortly after the development of dry-plate negatives and cyanotype printing made amateur photography feasible, Munroe acquired a camera and began shooting pictures in 1883. He took the earliest known photographs of the Biscayne Bay region in Dade County, Fla.
The views reflect Munroe's nautical and family interests. Most are of Coconut Grove; the Barnacle (his home); people (his family, friends, winter tourists, Black Bahamians, and Seminoles); coastal places (Miami River, Florida Keys, Bahamas, lighthouses, etc.), and maritime activities on Biscayne Bay (boat-building, his sailboats, wrecking, Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, etc.). A few of the images are of the northeast, probably Staten Island and Concord, Massachusetts. Some of the images were taken by friends, notably Alfred Munroe and Alice Austen.
The collection consists of two series: photographic prints and negatives. The photographic prints are mainly contact prints ranging in size from 4x5 inches up to 8x10 inches, and were made from the negatives during the 1970s. The negatives include original glass plate negatives and 4x5 in. copy negatives made from original prints in the Munroe family possession. Of the dry-plate negatives, 285 are 4x5 in. and 354 are between 4x5 and 8x10 in.. Direct-duplicate negatives have been made from the glass negatives, to protect the originals.
Prints are arranged by topics created by archives staff. Original and direct duplicate negatives are separated by kind and size, and filed using an alpha-numeric system devised by Patty Munroe Catlow and Arva Moore Parks. Copy negatives are filed by accession number.
Restrictions on Access
Photographic prints are open for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission from Historical Museum of Southern Florida staff required prior to reproduction of photographs in a publication. Reproduction of 193 of the photographs is restricted. Please contact archives staff for more information.
The Historical Museum's objects collections contain one of Munroe's cameras, as well as other Munroe family memorabilia. The archives has several original albumen and cyanotype prints made from Munroe negatives.
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Munroe, Ralph Middleton, 1851-1933
Coconut Grove (Miami, Fla.)
Florida Keys (Fla.)
Miami Region (Fla.)
Over the years, the original photographic prints were disbursed to family and friends. The negatives were stored in the attic of the Barnacle. When they family sold the Barnacle to the State of Florida for a house museum, they gave the negatives to the Historical Museum.
Ralph Munroe Collection, Historical Museum of Southern Florida.
Gift of Mrs. Wirth M. Munroe and Mrs. Patty Munroe Catlow, 1977.
Munroe, Ralph Middleton. The Commodore's Story / Ralph Middleton Munroe and Vincent Gilpin. New York : I. Washburn, c1930
Parks, Arva Moore. The Forgotten Frontier: Florida through the Lens of Ralph Middleton Munroe. Revised printing. Miami, Fla.: Centennial Press, 2004.