Floating in Limbo: A House Without a Home in Palm Beach

A little yellow cottage from the early 1900s sits on a barge in the Intracoastal Waterway near Peanut Island. It’s been floating in limbo for 20 months as preservationists try to come up with a plan to save this historic South Florida home.

Photo by: Kara Franker Curious sailors and boaters often slow down to snap photographs of the house and occasionally people will stop to fish under the barge. 

“People are always asking me about that floating house,” said Steven Reep, a crewmember with a local tour company called Visit Palm Beach. “Do you want to get a closer look?”

That afternoon, I had driven up to West Palm Beach from Miami, hoping to get close enough to the house to snap a few photos, so I readily accepted Steven’s invitation to hop on a waverunner and cruise up to the floating house. 

We motored through the glassy water separating Peanut Island from Riviera Beach, and as we got closer to the barge, I couldn’t believe that the century old house was still standing – or floating for that matter. 

Orrel Gleason Stambaugh brought his family from Oklahoma to South Florida in 1910 and he settled in the pinewood house with steep-slanting eaves in Palm Beach. One hundred years later the Palm Beach Country Club needed the land and was granted a permit to demolish the home. The pioneer’s descendants stepped in to try to save the house from its demise, with hopes to relocate it to Peanut Island or some other location. 

While waiting for approval on the new site, the preservationists slipped the little cottage onto a barge and pushed it out into the Intracoastal Waterway for temporary safekeeping. Politics got in the way and nearly two years later, the house is still floating along in the water, gently rocking with the waves as curious sailors, fisherman, tourists and journalists try to get a closer look.   

According to the Sun-Sentinel, the house may have a new home soon. Orrel's great-granddaughter, Joette Stambaugh Keen, told the newspaper that a vacant lot may be available. Hopefully, this remnant of Florida history will rest safely on the shore soon. 

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