Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Florida history: Fort Lauderdale's Bonnet House - tribute to art and early Florida living

Entrance with fish sign of welcome 

Bonnet House
900 North Birch Road
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

By Jane Feehan

Visitors to and residents of South Florida who are interested in seeing a slice of early Florida - before condos took command of the skyline - may be interested in the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens.

Named for Bonnet lilies on its freshwater slue (where swans live today) and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Bonnet House sits atop a natural Florida habitat on Fort Lauderdale’s coastal barrier island. It's bordered on the west by the Intracoastal Waterway near Sunrise Boulevard. The house was designed by Chicagoan Frederic Clay Bartlett (1873-1953), artist, art collector and one time son-in-law of Fort Lauderdale pioneer Hugh Taylor Birch.

Fresh water slue
Birch gave 35 acres of his beach holdings to Bartlett when he married his daughter, Helen Birch, in 1919.  Work began on the estate in 1920 but ceased in 1925 when Helen died.  Bartlett married Evelyn Fortune Lilly in 1931 and resumed construction on the property, which became their winter home.

In 1983, thirty years after Frederic died, Evelyn gifted the house and gardens to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. She lived until a few months before her 110th birthday in 1997.

The house, built around an expansive rectangular tropical courtyard, is filled with Bartlett’s works and objets d'art from world travels. Bonnet House’s eclectic, whimsical d├ęcor sets it apart from other early Florida estates.  It’s well worth the $20 or so for an hour and a half guided tour. A golf cart ride throughout the grounds is provided for an additional $2. The site is teaming with wildlife, including an Osprey family. Open 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m to 4 p.m. Sunday. Local, senior, and children’s discounts are available.

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, places to see in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale sightseeing, South Florida history, artists in Florida, National Historic Register of Historic Places, Hugh Taylor Birch, film research 

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