Bonnet House

Bonnet House Fort Lauderdale was built in the 1920s by Frederic Clay Bartlett, but the history of its location extends back much further than the twentieth century. Visiting the Bonnet House requires almost a full day to explore the extensive gardens and home, but it is well worth adding to the list of things to do while in Fort Lauderdale. In addition to beautiful surroundings, Bonnet House Museum offers special memberships and programs for artists who are inspired by the lush vegetation of this island barrier. Visitors are welcomed from Tuesday through Sunday to take public tours of the house and grounds.

The history of the land on which Bonnet House stands dates back to 2000 BC; during archaeological excavations of the area, a mound of shell waste was found, indicating human activity up to 4,000 years ago by a native group known as the Tequesta. In 1513, Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida, and evidence suggests that Fort Lauderdale was the place of the first Spanish contact, after which ownership vacillated between the French, English, and Spanish until the end of the Revolutionary War, when it passed into the hands of the United States.

Hugh Taylor Birch, a lawyer from Chicago, acquired the grounds of Bonnet House in 1893; it was part of more than 200 acres along the shoreline where Birch State Park is located today. After his daughter, Helen, married Bartlett, an artist from Chicago, in 1919, Birch gave them a wedding present of 30 acres, where they built Bonnet House. Five years after construction on the house began, in 1920, Helen died of breast cancer, and Bartlett scarcely visited their winter home. He was remarried after another six years, in 1931, to Evelyn Fortune Lilly; together, Frederic and Evelyn decorated the home with the ornamental features that attract visitors today. Frederic Bartlett died in 1953, and Evelyn continued to visit each year until 1983, when she donated the home and grounds to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, at which time it became the Bonnet House Museum.

As an artist, Bartlett had a clear picture of Bonnet House before construction began. Instead of the grandeur and stateliness of the Palm Beach mansions in the north, he took a different approach to create a more soothing atmosphere, where he and his wife could work and be inspired. The house is an interpretation of the Caribbean plantation homes with various living spaces inside and out. Today, artists inspired by the beautiful surroundings are encouraged to get a Fine Artists membership to take advantage of lectures, presentations, classes, and events, as well as receive free entry to the museum throughout the year.

Bonnet House Fort Lauderdale is closed on Mondays, holidays, and for special events. Tuesday through Saturday, public tours are offered from 10 am to 4 pm, with the last tour beginning at 3 pm; on Sunday, the Bonnet House Museum opens at noon. Those who wish to visit only the gardens of Bonnet House pay half the admission rate, and while regular entrance fees vary, depending on membership and age, the individual fee is still affordable. Groups are offered reduced rates as well.

The charming beauty of the grounds and home at Bonnet House Fort Lauderdale are an inspiration to everyone who pays a visit, and tourists will be enchanted by the lagoons and subtropical gardens the stretch over the 30 acres. If you're interested in learning about local history during your Fort Lauderdale vacation, in addition to spending time golfing or on the local beaches, attractions such as this one are an excellent and memorable way to do so.

Top image: cliff1066™ (flickr)

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