Bonnet House Museum & Gardens has a long and interesting history. While an artifact found on the land dated back to 2000 B.C., the more modern history started with the shipwreck of Chicago attorney Hugh Taylor Birch in 1893.
Taylor recuperated at Stranahan Camp for 10 days following the shipwreck. The camp was managed by Frank Stranahan, who would later build the historic Stranahan House — the oldest standing building in Fort Lauderdale today.
During Birch’s 10 day stay, he became smitten with the area and returned in 1895 to purchase three miles of oceanfront property with his business partner John McGregor Adams. It is said the land was purchased for only $1 per acre.
In 1919, Taylor gave a portion of his land to daughter Helen and her husband Frederic Clay Bartlett as a wedding gift. Bartlett, an artist, was very involved in the design of Bonnet House. Once the plantation-style home was built, he and Helen spent winters at the home. Sadly, Helen succumb to breast cancer and died in 1925.
Bartlet did not return to Bonnet House until after he married his third wife, Evelyn Fortune Lilly in 1931. Lilly was the ex-wife of pharmaceutical industrialist Eli Lilly. It is said Bonnet House experienced a revival during Bartlet and Lilly’s marriage. They wintered at the Fort Lauderdale luxury waterfront home until Bartlett’s death in 1953 and Lilly’s death in 1997.
In 1983, Lilly deeded Bonnet House to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. Thankfully the property has been very well preserved and offers a unique glimpse into what luxury living was like in Fort Lauderdale decades ago.
Visit the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens website to learn more about the historic home, tours, classes and concerts. For a whimsical look at Bonnet House, we hope you will enjoy the video below.