Government, News, Village Life

Honoring the Legacy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas

After years of delay, the Coconut Grove cottage where Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote The Everglades: River of Grass may finally be restored and opened to the public.

The Coconut Grove home of one of Miami’s most iconic environmental leaders may finally get the attention it so richly deserves.

A quarter of a century after her passing, Marjory Stoneman Douglas is justly celebrated as a visionary writer and activist who alerted the world to the essential beauty and wonder of the Everglades.

Douglas’ reputation has only grown with time, but the years since her death have not been as kind to the 98-year-old home she left behind.

The small cottage where she lived and worked on Stewart Avenue in the South Grove has languished, shuttered and nearly forgotten, despite its National Historic Landmark status.

Former friends and fans of Douglas say that’s unconscionable, but there are signs of progress – one specific sign, actually, that is giving hope.

State officials recently posted a large sign in front of the cottage announcing the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Cottage Structural and Public Access Improvements.”

After years of delay, the cottage may finally undergo long-awaited repairs and – fingers crossed – welcome its first official visitors.

Built in 1926 in the style of a miniature thatched English cottage, the rustic 916 square-foot house was purchased by the state of Florida in 1991.

As part of the purchase agreement, Douglas was allowed to live out her last years in the home, with the intention that, after her death, it would become a museum honoring her life and activism. That was the hope, at least, of the Land Trust of Dade County, a nonprofit organization founded by friends of Douglas and which managed the property until 2007.

Since Douglas’ death at the age of 108 in 1998, however, the home has never been opened to the public.

Neighbors have complained for years that the property was suffering from neglect. Those concerns persisted even after the Florida Park Service took charge of the property in 2007.

This month marks the 26th anniversary of Douglas’ death, and while many members of the community are relieved that the state is finally undertaking the urgent repairs they’ve demanded for years, frustration remains about why it has taken so long.

“Marjory wanted to share her beautiful home and her legacy with the world,” said Glenn Terry, who fought for years to preserve the house on its original site and who led a troupe of costumed “Marching Marjorys” in the 2006 King Mango Strut parade. “What has taken 26 years should have taken 26 weeks.”

Jay Flynn, a neighbor who has campaigned to save the cottage, expressed frustration rather than triumph when discussing recent developments.

“Marjory Stoneman Douglas was someone who was known for getting things done,” Flynn said. “Her house is such a staple of the Grove, so it’s ironic that it would be caught up in all this mess. It’s a disappointment that they [the state of Florida] have let the house deteriorate like that.”

In August of 2022, Flynn took photos of the neglected cottage and reached out to fellow neighbors and organizations like Friends of the Everglades, an organization founded by Douglas.

The story was soon picked up by local news outlets including WLRN and Local 10 News. By September state officials had posted an invitation to bid for structural improvements to the property.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded a construction contract in the fall of 2022 but work was slow to start. Flynn wrote to DEP officials in April 2023:

“While your last email sounded promising… unfortunately when looking at the MSD house today, there is little, if any, sign of restoration. This in spite of so many failed timelines and broken promises with regards to this restoration. This simply is not the way to honor Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”

Today, 13 months later, the home’s condition looks much the same, but Jessica Cabral, park manager at the Barnacle State Historic Park in Coconut Grove, confirms that “the contractor has mobilized and is on site making structural repairs.” Cabral was unable to share additional details.

A review of the DEP’s invitation to bid as well as email correspondence with state officials offers an idea of what improvements are in store.

In an email dated September 2022, Cabral stated:

“Site construction includes a stormwater pollution protection plan, limited site demolition and vegetation removal, a stormwater system, hardscape installation and landscape plantings. Once the stormwater system is in place, the ADA Access, the inspection repairs, the foundation repairs and multiple structural repairs can be performed. These include straps and ties installed along the foundation footing into a new, continuous foundation curb, rafter and collar ties, as well as roof-truss repairs.”

Bruce Brockhouse, president of the Land Trust of Dade County, confirms that work has begun. “They are doing restoration work now,” he said.

Brockhouse added that there are also plans underway for the state to purchase an adjacent property – an empty lot at 3754 Stewart Ave. – currently owned by the Land Trust. Brockhouse said the larger conjoined site could serve as a “pocket park” for the neighborhood.

Historically, much of the controversy over the home’s restoration has focused on public access to the site. As far back as 2000, neighbors voiced concerns about visitor parking, increased traffic, and the presence of school buses on the narrow street.

Finally, after decades of gridlock, neighbors agreed to a compromise in 2018 allowing the house to be open to the public by appointment. Barnacle staff confirmed that public access would begin with “low impact visitation.”

In a recent email Cabral stated, “It is my understanding that the plan is for visitors to visit the park by appointment only (up to 14 people at a time). They will arrive at the site via van.” Groups will meet at the Barnacle to avoid onsite parking.

While a completion date is unknown, the home, which was named a National Historic Landmark in 2015, is likely to draw visitors eager to see the place where Douglas penned her bestselling work, The Everglades: River of Grass, and helped kickstart an American environmental movement.

Friends of Douglas are anticipating that day.

“Those of us who loved Marjory and went to her house all the time can’t wait to see Marjory’s furniture back in the house,” said Theodora Long, executive director of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center.

Still, with every year that passes, fewer of Douglas’ friends and contemporaries are around to see her legacy honored.

Sallye Jude, a local preservationist and longtime friend of Douglas, died in 2022 at the age of 96. Jude played a central role in the sale of Douglas’ home to the state, and she advocated tirelessly for public access, up to and including the last few months of her life.

Brockhouse regrets the loss of time, but says he never gave up hope.

“We thought, ‘the water’s going to have to break sometime.’ We just didn’t have a clue as to how complicated it would be,” he said.

For him, public access represents the fulfillment of Douglas’ vision.

“That has always been our mission, to have Marjory’s legacy actually made tangible by having [the public] able to visit the house,” he said.

“Without having any visitation, it seemed that we weren’t living up to spreading the message that Marjory wanted us to spread, that, you know, a woman armed with a pen and knowledge could actually establish a national park and preserve it… as well as fight for so many other causes.”

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