In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is a property that was acquired as a wedding gift by Frederic Clay Bartlett and Helen Louise Birch in 1919. Fresh off its centennial anniversary, the property includes a plantation-style home built by the couple with a main house, an art studio, a music studio, and a guest house. In 1983, the property was deeded to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. Valued at $35 million at the time, this was and may still be the largest single private donation in state history.
History of the House
Built on beautiful South Florida land with an ocean view, Bonnet House Museum and Gardens came about in 1920 when Birch’s father gifted the land to her and her husband, Chicago-born Bartlett. Birch later fell ill and passed away. Eventually, Bartlett remarried and spent much of the remainder of his life making memories at Bonnet House with his second wife, Evelyn. Today, the house and museum are used for historical and environmental preservation as well as for learning and creativity, all very important to the family that once lived there. The nonprofit promises to keep the Bartlett family’s architectural, environmental and artistic legacy alive through meaningful experiences and education on site.
How to Visit
Located on North Birch Road in Fort Lauderdale, the Bonnet House is easily accessible by car, like much of South Florida’s attractions. There is free visitor parking on the property, as well as a pedestrian-only entrance. If you’re feeling adventurous, hop on the local Water Taxi and hop off at Exit 9. Open Tuesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Bonnet House hosts tours every hour between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. The cost of admission is $20 per adult, $16 for children between the ages of six and 12, and children under six can enter for free. Discounts are available for active military with ID and Broward County Residents; members of the Bonnet House and Broward County teachers always receive free admission. If you visit and choose to see the gardens only (no house access), admission is $10. Train tours are available for $5 per person.
What to Do There
- Take advantage of hourly tours here or pop into the museum and orchid shop for window shopping or real shopping; it’s always a good day to buy yourself a present and amidst the may collectibles, art, crafts, antiques, clothes and jewelry, you’re bound to find the perfect gift for a friend or family member.
- Grab a snack and recharge at the Little Cafe and then take a stroll around the gardens, where you’ll be able to view five distinct South Florida ecosystems. Don’t miss the Desert Garden, that includes everything from arid plantings to a hibiscus garden, or the central courtyard garden, which contains tropical vegetation. The home’s Orchid Display House consists of a rotating selection of the flower, as Evelyn Bartlett was a massive fan of orchids in her lifetime.
- Birdwatching here is also a fun pastime, as you’ll spot various migratory bird species around the property and year-round birds that are native to the wetland and coastal areas of South Florida. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a manatee or two on the property’s Boathouse Canal.
- Check out the estate’s calendar of events online. Bonnet House is known for hosting birding classes, calligraphy and watercolor workshops, orchid care classes, basket weaving lessons, concerts under the stars, holiday events, and more.
What to Do Nearby
There’s so much to do in the Fort Lauderdale area, whether you want to go shopping, sightseeing, for coffee or on a restaurant or crawl. Bonnet House is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, which means there will be plenty of options for waterfront dining and activities nearby. If it’s a sunny day, head to Fort Lauderdale Beach and catch some rays before or after your visit to the museum. You can also get a little wine tasting in at Vinos on Las Olas, Wine Garden, or at 33rd Street Wine Bar.