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Cassidy Webb

Bonnet House: A Hidden Gem of Art, History, and Nature Close to Home


Next time you’re searching for an activity for the whole family, visit Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, an enchanting 35-acre subtropical estate and historic house museum.

Bonnet House is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that exudes an irresistible charm, offering a blend of art, history, and nature. The best part is that it is just a stone’s throw away, located across from Hugh Taylor Birch State Park on E. Sunrise Blvd and A1A.

Bonnet House: Enchanting Blend of History and Nature.

Exploring the Rich History and Legacy of Bonnet House

The property’s story begins when early settler Hugh Taylor Birch acquired the land in 1895, which had already witnessed 4,000 years of Florida history. Evidence of human activity on the property actually dates back to 2,000 B.C., indicating the site’s rich historical significance. In fact, it is believed that the grounds experienced one of the first instances of Spanish contact with this new, undiscovered land.

In 1919, Hugh Taylor Birch gifted the Bonnet House property to his daughter, Helen, and her husband, the Chicago-born artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, as a wedding present. Construction of Bonnet House began in 1920, as the couple envisioned it as a winter retreat where Frederic could focus on his art, and Helen could pursue her music and poetry.

A Gift of Love and Legacy - Unveiling the Story Behind Bonnet House's Treasured Beginnings.
From left to right: Clay (Frederic's only child), Hugh Taylor Birch, Helen and Frederic Bartlett.

In 1925 when Helen tragically passed away from cancer, the future of Bonnet House was left in the balance. But when Frederic remarried Evelyn Fortune Lilly in 1931, the newlyweds unleashed an era of creativity throughout the property. Evelyn and Frederic transformed Bonnet House into a whimsical haven adorned with decorative elements that continue to delight visitors each and every day.

Evelyn, making the largest charitable donation in Florida history at the time, officially gave Bonnet House to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation in 1983. Her gift has not only carried on Bonnet House’s legacy, but also ensured the enjoyment of the beautiful estate for years to come by locals and tourists alike.

Left: Frederic and Evelyn on their honeymoon in 1931 | Right: Evelyn Bartlett

Understanding What Makes Bonnet House Unique

Bonnet House stands out among museums and botanical gardens for its unique blend of art, architecture, history, and ecology. As one of the few complete homes and studios of two American artists open to the public, it offers an intriguing glimpse into the life of its expressive owners. It even still has the original furnishings! But Bonnet House is more than just an artistic oasis – it is a living time capsule that offers visitors a look at what it was like living in this beachfront retreat in the early to mid 20th century while surrounded by the natural beauty of South Florida.

Island theater at Bonnet House

The estate’s animals, picturesque courtyard, island theater, chickee bridge, boathouse, orchid houses, and pavilion all contribute to its irresistible charm. Each room in the estate tells a timeless story of its own, and the garden’s ample biodiversity provides a home to an array of fascinating plant and animal species for your viewing.

According to Bonnet House staff, “The property contains five distinct ecosystems including the Atlantic Ocean beach and primary dune, a freshwater slough, the secondary dune which includes the house site, mangrove wetlands, and a maritime forest. Given this fascinating assortment of natural landscapes, it is not surprising that a variety of interesting plant and animal species can be found throughout the estate grounds and gardens.”

Inspiring Learning and Creativity for Future Generations

Bonnet House embraces its mission of historic and environmental preservation while fostering learning and creative expression. The museum regularly hosts various programs, interactive workshops, and educational classes for adults, ranging from calligraphy and art classes in watercolor, acrylic, and oil to birding, forest bathing, and orchid care.

They also offer informational programs on Florida history, nature, art, and design, providing visitors with a deeper understanding of the estate’s historical significance and the unique landscape that Florida residents call home.

Bonnet House's living room showcasing antique treasures and masterful artworks.
Capturing the beauty of Bonnet House, where house and garden unite in harmony.

Attractions Inside the Museum and Garden

Bonnet House hosts family-friendly events all year long. The estate’s engaging attractions include annual events like Holiday Magic, where the house and grounds transform into a whimsical wonderland during the month of December. Then in April, the International Orchid & Garden Festival enchants visitors with vibrant varieties of orchids and tropical plants.

Bonnet House offers self-guided and guided tours year-round that can be scheduled on their website. The estate can also be rented out for weddings and other special events.

The next time you seek a captivating and educational escape close to home, consider venturing into the sanctuary of art, history, and nature that is Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, located at 900 North Birch Road in Fort Lauderdale. Learn more by visiting their website at www.bonnethouse.org.


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