The Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is a must see for Floridians as well as tourists! So often people forget about the wonderful sites right in their own backyards. Ask how many native New Yorkers have ever been to the Empire State Building’s observation deck, or even to the Statue of Liberty? The Bonnet House is that destination for Floridians. Situated atop an ancient Tequesta Indian site, the Bonnet House land was purchased by Hugh Taylor Birch in 1895. This land was then given by Birch to his daughter Helen and her new husband, Frederick Clay Bartlett, as a wedding gift in 1919. Bartlett, an artist from Chicago, began construction on the home in 1920; the couples dream getaway. It would be his winter retreat to pursue his artwork and hers to compose her poetry and explore musical endeavors. The dream turned to tragedy soon after when in 1925 Helen died from cancer. Frederick rarely visited the homestead again until 1931, when he returned with his new wife, Evelyn Fortune Lilly. Bartlett and Lilly began anew to create a dream house rich in decoration and frills which have become unique wonders today.
Bartlett eschewed the Spanish Colonial style of the day that he felt was too commonplace and overdone. He instead selected as his template the Bahamian Plantation Style. Frederick Clay Bartlett died in 1953. Lilly continued to winter there until her death in 1997. Throughout her life she constantly strove to upgrade and embellish her homestead. Upon her death, the site was donated by her estate to The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. This contribution by Lilly/Bartlett was the largest of its time and insured that its beauty and splendor could be appreciated for future generations to enjoy!
The Bonnet House was listed on The National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The Museum and Gardens site is also accredited by The American Association of Museums. In 2002 the Bonnet House and Gardens was declared a historic landmark by the City of Fort Lauderdale. Today, threats of encroachment from nearby land development have caused the site to be listed as an endangered American Treasure, by both The Nation Trust and The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.
Since first being built in 1920, the home site and surrounding 35 acres that remain are a microcosm of sub-tropical life. The landscape ranges from ocean and beach to mangrove stands to swamp and hammock. The wildlife includes generations of monkeys, birds, and fish; to name only a few.
Frederick Clay Bartlett and his second wife Evelyn created in the Bonnet House an experience of luxury and ambiance that exudes warmth and comfort throughout. The home maintains everything it’s had since it was built along with the more recent additions. The china, art and furnishings will leave you feeling that you are back in the days of the Old Charleston and speakeasies. To get to Bonnet House take Sunrise Boulevard, east to A1A and then south to Birch Road. Once there you can enjoy it for a day or become a member a visit often. There are many exhibits and events, property rental opportunities, volunteerism, shopping, sight -seeing and much more. The estate is located on the Las Olas River and the grounds surrounding the area are renowned for their floral designs and rarity.