Bonnet House Museum & Gardens
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
“By the time early settler Hugh Taylor Birch purchased the Bonnet House site in 1895, the grounds had already witnessed 4,000 years of Florida history. A shell midden left by the Tequesta people indicates that human activity on the site dates back to 2,000 B.C. while further archaeological evidence suggests that the grounds saw one of the first sites of Spanish contact with the New World.
Bonnet House’s modern history began when Birch gave the Bonnet House property as a wedding gift to his daughter Helen and her husband, Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett in 1919. The newlyweds began construction of Bonnet House in 1920, eager for a winter retreat where Frederic could pursue his artwork and Helen could compose music and poetry. Tragedy struck in 1925 when Helen died from breast cancer. Frederic’s visits to Bonnet House then became sporadic until 1931 when he married Evelyn Fortune Lilly. With this marriage, a renaissance occurred on the site as Frederic and Evelyn entered a prolific period of embellishing Bonnet House with the decorative elements that delight visitors to this day.
Frederic died in 1953, but Evelyn continued to return each winter. In 1983, Evelyn Fortune Bartlett gave Bonnet House to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. Her contribution — at the time, the largest charitable gift in Florida history — ensured that the site would be preserved for the enjoyment and education of future generations.
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1984 and declared a historic landmark by the City of Fort Lauderdale in 2002.
In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Bonnet House in its Save America’s Treasures program. Due to the threat posed by inappropriately massive nearby development, the National Trust and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation designated listed Bonnet House as one of America’s 11 most endangered sites in 2008.”
For more about the Bonnet House visit its website, www.bonnethouse.org.
The areal map shows a sweet green expanse of the Bonnet House and nearby Hugh Taylor Birch State Park amid the astonishing South Florida coastal development. “The Bonnet House grounds encompass one of the last examples in South Florida of a native barrier island habitat. Five distinct ecosystems can be found on the property including the Atlantic Ocean beach and primary dune, a fresh water slough, the secondary dune which includes the house site, mangrove wetlands, and a maritime forest. In compliment to the natural vegetation, the grounds contain a Desert Garden composed of arid plantings, a hibiscus garden, and the main courtyard planted with tropical vegetation. Evelyn Bartlett was a passionate orchid collector. Various blooming examples are rotated regularly through the estate’s Orchid Display House…Bonnet House is a haven for migratory birds, year round birds indigenous to Florida wetland and coastal areas, and manatees that occasionally seek refuge in the estate’s Boathouse Canal.”