EXPLORE YOUR BACKYARD: The Bonnet House Museum & Garden

So, as I mentioned in my last post, How to Travel When You Don’t Have Much Money, you can travel by exploring your city. I am blessed to live in Sunny South Florida where there are all kinds of things to do.

A few years ago, I moved out of state and I was kicking myself for not exploring my hometown like a tourist. Well, when my job out of state eventually crumbled and I ended up back where I grew up— South Florida. This time, I’m doing what I always wanted to do: Play tourist in my own backyard!

Today, I had the privilege to meet up with some of the people at the Bonnet House. The staff there is phenomenal. They went above and beyond, from the golf cart drives to the tour guide (Stephanie Johnson is fabulous), to the maintenance man, to Linda Schaller in sales, they are all outstanding.

If you’re wanting to know what Old Florida was like before all the commercial buildings, condos and mayhem, you should absolutely check out the Bonnet House. It sits on 35 acres of beautiful land full of plants, orchids, and wildlife (in fact, before the tour began, our tour guide spotted a family of raccoons). The Bonnet House got its name from the Bonnett Lily which is found in the waters surrounding the property.

Background on the Bonnet House:

Fredric Clay Bartlett was from a family who owned several hardware stores (ever heard of True Value?) He decided to go away from the family business and enroll in art school in Munich, Germany. He met and married a woman named Dora Tripp during that period of his life, but she died at the young age of 38.

Several years prior to this period in Fredric’s life, a man named Hugh Taylor Birch (a lawyer from Chicago) found solitude from the hustle and bustle of Chicago and bought 500 acres of land in Fort Lauderdale. He loved to spend his winters in Florida.

Somewhere along the lines, Hugh’s daughter Helen met and married the widower, Fredric Clay Bartlett. As a wedding gift, Hugh Taylor Birch, the father of Helen gave her and Fredric a piece of his land. Together they built the Bonnet House.

For Helen, this life was short lived as she passed away from breast cancer only 5 years after marrying Fredric, but those 5 years were full of traveling and collecting art and enjoying their home in Florida.

Fredric seemed to be a man that couldn’t live alone. He remarried Evelyn Fortune Lilly who came from a wealthy family. It was Evelyn that encouraged Fredric to go back to the Bonnet house and live in it as Helen would have liked. It is said that Hugh Taylor Birch sold the Bonnet House to Fredric after Helen’s death for $1. So, after sitting stagnant for about 5 years, they started to spend their winters in the Bonnet House.

Fredric passed away after suffering from a stroke. Whereas Evelyn still spent her winters at the Bonnet House. But as she got older, she grew concerned that the land might be sold to more commercial businesses. So, she decided to give the Bonnet House the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation under three conditions. First, that she wouldn’t have to pay taxes. Second, that she would be able to visit freely as if still in her house. Third, that when she was visiting, there would be no visitors. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation agreed and Evelyn lived another 12 years after she gave the Bonnet House away.


The Bonnet House is a smorgasbord of Fredric and Evelyn’s hobbies and interests. They have everything from carved animals, to paintings of the Iranians Sheikh’s, to tiki huts and an island theater.

Since the Bartlett’s had several homes domestically (Davie, Florida & Beverly, Massachusetts) and internationally, (Munich, Germany & Paris, France) the Bonnet House seemed to be the House they made home and tinkered with. There are “projects” all over the place. From the fish caught and framed in the dining room to the seashells arches in the hallway to the turtle painting on the roof. It is not an elegant home but one that they made their own. The Bartletts didn’t really care to make much of a social life in Florida. This was their private house where only close friends and family visited. Almost all the furniture in the house is left from when the family lived there.

Because of this, you feel as though you’re walking back in time. It almost seems logical that someone from the 1920s or 30s could walk around the corner and it would seem appropriate.

The Bartlett’s were a wealthy and influential family, and they used their influence for good. Segregation was prominent during their life time. And unfortunately, because Florida is in the south, people of color had to go to another beach that was far away. In order to get to that beach, one would have to take a boat. Well, since the Bartlett’s and the Birch’s had beachfront property, they allowed everyone, those of colors and those not of color, to swim at their beach.  

My favorite parts:

My favorite room in the house was either the art studio because of the huge windows that one could look at which gives inspirations for a writer or an artist, or the music room. Overall, I think my favorite part was the grounds. Walking through the sea grape trees, ficus trees and beautiful palm trees was so refreshing. In the midst of the chaos one often feels in Fort Lauderdale, the Bonnet House is a great location to soak up some nature and enjoy the noises of animals and beautiful sights.

So, if you’re ever visiting my backyard, I hope you’ll stop in at the Bonnet House and enjoy seeing what an old Florida home looked like before commercial reality bought up a lot of the land. Check out this short video I did on site.

Until my next backyard adventure, I hope you all have a great week and get out to explore your own backyard! Cheers, Friends!

The Bonnet House hosts concerts, dinners and weddings as well as art days for kids and a whole lot of other fun stuff. Click HERE for more information!

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