Darlene Foster's Blog

Historic Houses of Fort Lauderdale

Posted on: November 7, 2011

The name Fort Lauderdale, tends to conjure up images of crazy spring break college students, Connie Francis, and Where the Boys Are. The history goes back much further than the 1960s, and on my recent visit, I was determined to find out more.

Bonnet House

Given I had some time on my hands, I set out to explore. My first stop was the Bonnet House, named after the bonnet lily that grows on the property, designed in 1920 by Frederic Clay Bartlett, an American artist from Chicago. Fred was given the land by his father-in-law, Hugh Taylor Birch, when he married his second wife, Helen. An artist trained in Europe, he had always had an interest in architecture. He decided to build the house plantation style instead of the popular Spanish style of the time.

Bonnet House 2

The house is delightful, filled with Frederick’s paintings, a collection of art and artefacts collected from his travels and interesting items he scavenged. His artistic mind enabled him to envision beauty in things others would throw away. One such item he rescued from a demolition site was a metal staircase which he installed to get to the flat roof, where they sunbathed naturally until the skyscrapers arrived. My favourite items were the rescued and refurbished turn-of-the-century carousel animals.

Carousel camel
carousel lion

When his wife Helen died of cancer the house was left uninhabited for a number of years until he married his third wife Evelyn who convinced him to open it up as a winter retreat. Evelyn loved to garden and planted many of the beautiful flowers, trees and shrubs on the property. There are over 2000 species of orchids alone, which require no soil or water and live on the air they breathe. She was also an animal lover and had many pets including a cockatoo who lived to almost 100 years, a monkey and assorted dogs and cats. Spider monkeys can still be seen playing in the trees surrounding the house.


Evelyn collected china like other women collect shoes or jewellery. The dining room displays wonderful samples of her china and every month a new place setting is featured on the dining room table. Her love of monkeys is reflected everywhere in the house, including a set of china painted with monkeys, as well as cushion covers, ornaments, statues, lamps, and bookends. She was a kind, active woman who lived to be 109, outliving her husband by 39 years. She spent every winter at her Fort Lauderdale house and made a gift of the estate to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation to ensure a piece of Florida history would be enjoyed by all.

The 35 acres of land was a jungle when Hugh Birch bought it in the early 1900s and is now surrounded by a large, throbbing, noisy city. A walk around the grounds is a piece of tranquility and a step back to the time of old South Florida. This was what I was looking for.


To be continued………….

9 Responses to "Historic Houses of Fort Lauderdale"

I’ve never been to that part of Florida, but it looks like you found a real treasure.

Thanks Patti I was happy to have found it, although it took a bit of exploring to discover.

I stumbled upon your blog and smiled at your reference to Hugh Taylor Birch. I am from Yellow Springs, OH, where there is a beautiful nature preserve on land donated to Antioch College by Birch in 1929, in memory of his daughter Helen (http://antiochcollege.org/glen_helen/about_glen/). I moved my business, Bookplate Ink (www.bookplateink.com) to Orlando and was amazed to see the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Ft. Lauderdale.

Thanks for stopping by. It seems Mr. Birch was a very wealthy man and left his footprint in a few places. Beautiful places of nature for us to enjoy is a nice way to be remembered.

Do you live there? I’m in Aventura 10 miles south off 178th and Biscayne or US 1. See you do children’s books. While back was going to produce history vignettes for famous people at middle school reading level but ever got started. Taught high school history 33 years in north Dade. Thanks visit my blog.

So nice of you to stop by my blog Carl. I live on the west coast of Canada but visited Fort Lauderdale recently. My husband was at the boat show so I had time on my hands to explore. I tend to search out historical sites if possible. I also like to see if I can use the sites as locations for future children’s books.
It’s never too late to write those history vignettes. Somehow I think you would incorprate some humour into the stories!

Yes the boat show. At docks of Bahia Mar I think. Don’t go near boats as I need two motion sickness pills just to get into the bath tub. Snort.

Thanks Darlene,
Good insight into how to write about travels.
I’ll have to follow your example next time.

Thanks for stopping by my blog Ben and for your kind comment.

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