Famed environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas lived most of her 108 years in an unassuming English country-style cottage in Coconut Grove. Inside the small house, the so-called Mother of the Everglades wrote her seminal book, The Everglades: River of Grass, and organized conservation efforts that would help save the vast, singular natural gem. She called her home "a workshop, more than a house."
After Stoneman Douglas' 1998 death, plans were made to turn the cottage into a museum. But 20 years later, despite being named a National Historic Landmark, the state-owned house at 3744 Stewart Ave. is in poor shape and inaccessible to the public. There's not even a historical marker outside.
Now the nonprofit Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, a statewide nonprofit that's fought to preserve significant structures such as the Historic Florida Capitol, has named the house to its annual "11 to Save" list. Since 2005, the group has selected what it says are the "most threatened historic properties in the state" in hopes of building awareness and advocating for a solution.
Since the shooting at the Parkland high school that bears her name, some observers have drawn parallels between Stoneman Douglas' relentless fight to save the Everglades and students' fight for what they call common-sense gun reform. A quote of hers that begins, "Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action," became a rallying cry and hung on a banner near the school.
Someone put Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s quote in perfect context on this banner near the high school bearing her name, where 34 kids were shot, 17 of them died and a movement was born. Among her many titles, she was a journalist, and I’m sure she would approve. Photo by @talanez pic.twitter.com/MvdaeoIs9S— Brittany Wallman (@BrittanyWallman) March 13, 2018
Upon the purchase her house in 1991, the state called Stoneman Douglas “one of Florida’s most distinguished citizens.” By the time of her death in 1998, she had been awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Efforts to open the home to the public date back years, sidelined by concern among some NIMBYs about parking and traffic in the quiet neighborhood. The state once considered moving the house to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. That idea was scrapped in part because it wasn't just the building that was significant to Stoneman Douglas' life. She also wrote about the inspiration she found in its surroundings.
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"Douglas would often write while seated on the open back patio, listening to songbirds and marveling at the trees in the evening twilight," says the National Historic Landmark nomination filed for the site.
In March, the state held a workshop and a public forum to discuss the future of the home, during which many attendees called for it to be opened to the public. Afterward, park officials said they were working toward a consensus for "very limited" public access, according to the Miami Herald . But how that will happen has not yet been revealed.
The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation says the home is "in need of a long-range maintenance and strategic plan for its preservation."
Elsewhere in South Florida, the group's list of threatened historic properties also includes the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, which earlier this year received federal funding to be demolished and replaced. Though the building has a leaky roof and mold issues, the nonprofit says the structure has architectural value and should be "sensitively" renovated.