The Bonnet House preserves history and an artist’s life’s work
The Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale might not be what people typically think of when envisioning this coastal city in Florida. Surrounded by jungles complete with squirrel monkeys frolicking about the trees, this yellow house stands, frozen in time, as a poignant reminder of days gone by.
What delights await visitors in this precious gem of Fort Lauderdale? Let’s take a peek inside and find out.
The History of the Bonnet House
The Bonnet House, so-called because of the yellow bonnet water lilies that give color to the grounds, sits on 35 acres. The property is nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic ocean. In the 1890s, Hugh Taylor Birch, a wealthy Chicago attorney looking for a nature paradise, bought several hundred acres on the ocean in the area that would become Fort Lauderdale.
He gave a two-thirds interest in the land to his daughter, Helen. She and her artist husband, Frederic Clay Bartlett, built a winter retreat on the property in the 1920s. Frederic modeled the house after the Caribbean plantation houses, complete with a central courtyard and a garden full of lush, tropical plants.
This stunning piece of history has been perfectly preserved in its original state. Frederic’s third wife, Evelyn Fortune Lily Bartlett, lived in the home. She kept it carefully maintained until the mid-1990s. She bequeathed the property to the Florida Trust with the specific stipulation that everything must remain the same, and nothing could be removed or even moved.
Aside from the Bonnet House’s impressive architecture and landscaping, the property boasts an impressive art collection.
As avid art collectors, Helen and Frederic gathered an extensive collection over the years. Their intent was to give it to the Art Institute of Chicago. When Helen died, Frederic donated a portion of the collection to create the institute’s Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.
However, plenty of pieces were left at the Bonnet House. As an artist himself, much of Frederic’s own work is on display. His work can also be seen in many prestigious institutions including The National Arts Club in New York City, The Carnegie Institute in Philadelphia, and The National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC, among others.
Frederic also prided himself on discovering his wife Evelyn’s talent. She had very little formal training. But with Frederic’s encouragement, she took up painting. Her works can also be enjoyed during a visit to the Bonnet House. Evelyn’s paintings have also been part of many prestigious gallery exhibits around the country.
Visit the Bonnet House
Art and architecture lovers, history buffs, nature lovers, and anyone looking for a quiet place to explore will love a visit to the Bonnet House. Take a few moments to slow down and step back to a simpler time. Rejuvenate your eyes and your soul with world-class works of art in a setting like none other.
This untouched yellow house in the jungle is a gem of Fort Lauderdale you won’t want to miss.