The Bonnet House (named for the many bonnet lilies which float in the property’s swamp) was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984, and like many of Florida‘s historic homes, it sits on a land that has seen a rich and varied history: an estimated 4,000 years of archaeological changes and social movement. According to the Bonnet House, proof of life on the land occupied by the Bonnet House dates back to the Tequesta people.
A Wife’s Death
Lawyer Hugh Taylor Birch bought the land for the Bonnet House in the late 19th century and, in 1919, he gave it to his daughter Helen and her husband, artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, as a wedding present. The couple began construction on the Bonnet House, meaning it to be an artistic and seasonal retreat, a place of tranquil beauty where Helen and Frederic could write poetry, paint, and relax. Their idyllic life on the property was relatively short lived – only six years after Birch’s gift of the land, Helen became ill with breast cancer and died. Bartlett avoided the property and only visited the Bonnet House sporadically for the next several years.
Remarriage and the Renaissance of a Property
Barlett married his second wife, Evelyn Fortune Lilly in 1931, a marriage that marked the transformation of the home into the tranquil and refreshing historic home that it is today. While Barlett’s career isn’t as well known as his other, more famous contemporaries, he enjoyed fame during his life, and evidence of his passion for art can be seen throughout the house: he painted colorful, childlike murals on doors and walls. Evelyn was also an artist in her own right. Despite her lack of training, her artwork was displayed in galleries in New York and Boston.
Wildlife at Bonnet House
Animals are a huge theme on the property – both inside the house and on the grounds. Outside, swans and raccoons can be seen, and the occasional spider monkey sits high in the trees. Perhaps it was the spider monkeys that inspired Evelyn to collect monkey-themed items throughout her life. From her prized monkey teapot to her monkey throw pillows, evidence of Evelyn’s love affair with monkeys is everywhere.
If You Go
The Bonnet House is located at 900 North Birch Road, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304. For more information, visit their website or call 954-703-2606. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm; Sundays, 11 am to 4 pm; Mondays are closed. See website for admission prices.