Florida’s Bonnet House Museum & Gardens celebrates 100th year


Front door, Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. Image courtesy of Duree Ross (Duree & Co.)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – One of the oldest homes in Florida and a popular tourist destination for locals and visitors alike, Bonnet House Museum & Gardens in Fort Lauderdale is celebrating its 100th anniversary now through 2020. A part of Florida’s unique history, the home was built in 1920 as the winter retreat of the Birch/Bartlett family, and is a delightful blend of art, architecture, history and ecology. A property of the Florida Trust, the 35-acre subtropical estate and historic house museum preserves the natural setting of South Florida, situated on what is one of the last examples of a native barrier island habitat in the region.The centennial celebration will be marked with a 100th Anniversary Celebration Gala that will include art, music, cocktails and dinner at the Bonnet House Estate on April 25, 2020. Leading up to the gala, the Estate will offer a full season of exciting programming with announcements in the coming months.

Early settler Hugh Taylor Birch purchased the Bonnet House site in 1895, at a time when the grounds had already witnessed 4,000 years of Florida history. Human activity on the site dates back to 2,000 B.C., evidenced by a shell midden left by the Tequesta people. Other archaeological evidence lends to the fact that the grounds were one of the first sites of Spanish contact with the New World.

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 started construction of Bonnet House in 1920. Unfortunately, Helen died from breast cancer in 1925. Frederic’s visits to Bonnet House then became infrequent, until he married Evelyn Fortune Lilly in 1931. The couple then embellished Bonnet House with the decorative and whimsical features that visitors relish to this day.

Frederic died in 1953, but Evelyn returned to the property each winter. In the 1980s, she donated the property so the public could enjoy it. Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is today accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. It 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.


Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. Image courtesy of Duree Ross (Duree & Co.)

Five distinct ecosystems are present on the Bonnet House property. These include 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. The grounds also are home to a Desert Garden featuring arid plantings, a hibiscus garden, and the main courtyard, which is planted with tropical vegetation. Because Evelyn Bartlett was a passionate orchid collector, the estate’s Orchid Display House includes various blooming examples which are regularly rotated.

Many migratory birds make Bonnet House their home, as well as year-round birds indigenous to Florida wetland and coastal areas. On occasion, manatees seek shelter in the estate’s Boathouse Canal; and monkeys can be spotted on the grounds.

Art & Architecture
Frederic worked on mural projects with American architects including Howard Van Doren Shaw, and his easel work was acquired by several highly-respected collections. Today, in the Bonnet House studio, examples of his easel art are on display and his murals and faux paintings are seen throughout the main house. Frederic Bartlett was also an avid art collector, and together with Helen, the couple purchased and then gifted many significant works of art to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Evelyn Fortune Bartlett’s work was featured in popular gallery exhibits in Boston, New York, and Indianapolis. Her works are today on display in Bonnet House’s Carl J. Weinhardt Gallery.

As for architecture, the Bonnet House’s main house is based on Frederic’s interpretation of Caribbean-style architecture. All of the principal buildings are of unique architecture and designed by Frederic Bartlett. Today, the house museum epitomizes not only historic and environmental preservation, but also learning and creative expression.

“Throughout its 100-year history, Bonnet House has preserved the beauty, creativity and unique style of the Bartletts and Birches with incredible authenticity,” said Patrick Shavloske, CEO of Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. “Not many landmarks in Florida have reached 100 years ― it is truly amazing how this estate and property have stood the test of time.”


Island Theater at Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. Image courtesy of Duree Ross (Duree & Co.)

About the Bonnet House:
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is a 35-acre subtropical estate and historic house museum located in the heart of Fort Lauderdale. Bonnet House, Inc. is a nonprofit, 501c3, whose mission is to preserve this unique historic estate of Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett. Through enjoyable and enriching cultural experiences, the Museum connects today’s community to the Bartletts’ architectural, artistic and environmental legacy. Bonnet House is located at 900 North Birch Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304 and is open for tours Tuesday–Sunday from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. For more information, visit www.bonnethouse.org.

Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is a partner of the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District‘s Consortium, a unique partnership of arts and entertainment organizations in Fort Lauderdale.

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